Thailand – 5 December: National Day

Dr Sajid Khakwani

Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand, country in Southeast Asia. Thailand is bordered on the west and northwest by Burma; on the northeast and east by Laos and Cambodia; and on the south by the Gulf of Thailand, the northwestern portion of the South China Sea, peninsular Malaysia, and the Andaman Sea. With an area of 198,115 sq miles. The country as a whole pivots around the Gulf of Thailand. Thailand has a long and intricate coastline measuring 2,000 miles. It faces the Andaman Sea in the west and the Gulf of Thailand in the east and south. Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, has many canals, which makes it well suited for water-based activities such as this floating market.

early peoples of this region were among the first in the world to make and use bronze tools and weapons, to which they later added iron. They domesticated pigs and chickens, cultivated rice and caught fish, and produced fabrics from bark and fibrous plants. They lived in small villages scattered over a broad area. In early historic times, the peoples living in what is now central Thailand and were absorbed into a number of local states that developed in the area. Especially between the 6th and 9th centuries. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been occupied by any European or other foreign power, except in war. The country was an absolute monarchy from 1782 until 1932, when rebels seized power in a coup and established a constitutional monarchy. Since then, Thailand has come under the rule of many governments, both civil and military. The country was known as Siam until 1939 (when it was renamed Thailand), and again for a few years in the late 1940s. In 1949 the name Thailand was adopted a second time.

Thailand (known until 1939 as Siam) has never been heavily populated. In 1668 an Indian king was reported to have commented somewhat disparagingly to a Siamese visitor that “the King of Golconda is a king of men, while your king is only a king of the forests and the mosquitoes!” By the 1800s Thailand’s population remained low at 2,000,000, and by 1950 it had risen to only 20,041,628. By 2008 the total population had increased to 65,493,298, still one of the lowest in Asia. In 2008 the birthrate was 13.6 births per 1,000 people.

Residents of cities are 32 percent of Thailand’s inhabitants. More than 10 percent is concentrated in Bangkok, where serious problems of overcrowding do exist. Since World War II, a significant number of rural Thai have moved from the countryside to cities in search of better economic opportunities. Many Thai people also have migrated abroad either on a permanent basis, mainly to the United States and Canada, or on a temporary one, as migrant laborers, to other Southeast Asian countries (such as Singapore) and to countries of the Middle East.

Thailand’s official language is standard Thai, formerly known as Siamese, which is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Thai is the predominant member of the Tai family of languages, which includes about 60 languages spoken throughout Southeast Asia. Standard Thai is written in the Thai alphabet, derived from the Indian Devanagari script, and is characterized by the use of five tones. A strong Thai literary tradition goes back to the 13th century. Another 50 percent of Thailand’s population speak Tai languages other than Thai, such as Lao, spoken in the northeast. Most educated Thai speak English, and Chinese is also widely used. English, Chinese, and Japanese are often the languages of commerce. Some Malay is spoken in the south.

Thai people form the large majority of Thailand’s population, and most of them practice Buddhism. Other ethnic groups within the population include Chinese, Malays, and indigenous hill peoples, such as the Hmong and Karen. Although the majority of Thailand’s people (about 75 percent) are classified as Thai, the country has a complex ethnic composition. Many Thai have some Chinese ancestry, and Chinese constitute the largest single minority group in the country (about 14 percent of the total population). Theravada Buddhism is the prevailing religion in  Thailand, with about 95 percent of the Thai majority being Theravada Buddhist. Theravada is a school of Buddhist belief that spread to Thailand beginning in the 13th century, primarily via Sri Lanka. Despite the predominance of Buddhism, Thai religion is highly syncretic, meaning that it combines different systems of religious practice and belief. Many Buddhist ceremonies include elements of animism (worship of objects and phenomena of nature), Hinduism, and even Christianity. Muslim groups, comprising about 7 percent of the population, are found throughout the country, especially in the southern peninsula. Very few ethnic Thai have converted to Western religions.

An estimated 96 percent of Thailand’s population is literate. The country has a comprehensive educational system that extends from kindergarten to university and adult education. Education is free and compulsory for 9 years beginning at age 6, and 97 percent of primary-school aged children are enrolled. About 81 percent of students continue to secondary education, which normally finishes at age 17. The country has a wide range of private schools, from international schools to palace and experimental schools.

Agriculture was traditionally the mainstay of the Thai economy. However, along with the remarkable acceleration of economic growth in the 1980s came rapid changes in the country’s economic structure. While agricultural production increased, the economic contributions of industry and services grew faster, which decreased the relative importance of farming. most of the country’s major crop, rice. Other important crops include sugarcane, natural rubber, corn, soybeans, coconuts, and other tropical fruits. Agricultural exports, especially of rice, were the basis for most of Thailand’s early trade. The country is still a major exporter of rice, but its agricultural trade has diversified to include rubber, cassava, fruits, flowers, and many other products. Many animal species inhabit Thailand’s forests. Elephants, traditionally used as beasts of burden, are raised in captivity but also live in the wild. Other large animals native to Thailand include the rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, gaur (wild ox), water buffalo, and gibbon. Thailand has more than 50 species of snakes, including several poisonous varieties. Crocodiles are numerous, as are fish and birds.

The king is Thailand’s head of state and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Although the king has little direct power, he may exercise considerable influence on political leaders and moral influence on society as a whole.The country’s chief executive official is the prime minister. The prime minister is designated from among the members of the House of Representatives and is usually the leader of the dominant party following elections. The king formally appoints the prime minister. The prime minister heads the cabinet, which consists of no more than 35 members. Under the 2007 constitution the prime minister is limited to two four-year terms in office. Legislative power in Thailand is vested in a bicameral (two-chamber) National Assembly, consisting of a House of Representatives  and a Senate. Most provinces have a single representative in the Senate, but the larger ones have additional representatives. The elected members of the Senate serve six-year terms, and the appointed senators serve three-year terms.

Thailand is divided into  provinces, each headed by a governor. Except for the governor of Bangkok, who is elected by popular vote, the provincial governors are appointed by the minister of the interior. The provinces are divided into  districts, headed by appointed district officers. Municipalities are governed by elected and appointed officials, while elected heads hold power at the village level.

Popular opinion seems to hold that a vast majority of the country’s Muslims are found in the Thailand’s three Southernmost provinces of Yala,Pattani and Narathiwat. However, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ research indicates that only 18% of Thai Muslims live in those three provinces. The rest are scattered throughout Thailand, with the largest concentrations being in Bangkok and throughout the larger Southern region. In the three Southernmost border provinces, the vast majority of the local Muslim population is predominantly Malay in origin. These people, known colloquially as Yawi, speak a dialect of Malay that is not mutually understood by Thai speakers. According to National Statistic Office of Thailand in 2007, the country has 3,494 mosques, with the largest number (636) in Pattani province.

The National Council for Muslims, consisting of at least five persons (all Muslims) and appointed by royal proclamation, advised the ministries of education and interior on Islamic matters. Its presiding officer, the state counselor for Muslim affairs, was appointed by the king and held the office of division chief in the Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education. Provincial councils for Muslim affairs existed in the provinces that had substantial Muslim minorities, and there were other links between the government and the Muslim community, including government financial assistance to Islamic education institutions, assistance with construction of some of the larger mosques, and the funding of pilgrimages by Thai Muslims. Thailand also maintains several hundred Islamic schools at the primary and secondary levels, as well as Islamic banks, (Pattanakarn, Bangkok), shops and other institutions. In some Muslim pockets unrest and anxiety is there due to some grievances to the system. Some years ago the security forces tried to crush the violence, but it is still going to strengthen in more.



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