Government and politics
The king has little direct power under the constitution but is the anointed protector of Thai Buddhism and a symbol of national identity and unity. The present monarch enjoys a great deal of popular respect and moral authority, which has on occasion been used to resolve political crises. It is illegal to mock or criticize the King and doing so can bring about charges of lèse majesté. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the king from among the members of the lower house of parliament, usually the leader of the party that can organise a majority coalition government.
The bicameral Thai parliament is the National Assembly which consists of a House of Representatives of 500 seats and a Senate of 200 seats. Members of both houses are elected by popular vote. The House of Representatives is elected by the first-past-the-post system, where only one candidate with a simple majority will be elected in one constituency. The Senate is elected based on the province system, where one province can return more than one Senator depending on its population size. Members of House of Representatives serve four-year terms, while Senators serve six-year terms. The court system has three layers, the highest judicial body being the Supreme Court . Thailand is an active member of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other 11%
Thailand's origin is traditionally tied to the short-lived kingdom of Sukhothai founded in 1238, after which the larger kingdom of Ayutthaya was established in the mid-14th century. Thai culture was greatly influenced by both China and India. Contact with various European powers began in the 16th century but, despite continued pressure, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. Western influence, however, including the threat of force, led to many reforms in the 19th century and major concessions to British mercantile interests. This included the loss of the 3 southern provinces, which later became Malaysia's 3 northern states.
Thailand was never colonised by a European power. There are two main reasons for this. First, it was left as a buffer state between parts of Asia that were colonised by the French and the British. Second, Thailand had a series of very able rulers in the 1800s.
A mostly bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. Known previously as Siam, the country first changed its name to Thailand in 1939, and definitively in 1949 after reverting to the old name post-World War II. During that conflict Thailand was in a loose alliance with Japan; following its conclusion Thailand became an ally of the United States. Thailand then saw a series of military coups d'état, but progressed towards democracy from the 1980s onward.
The official calendar in Thailand is based on the Buddhist Era, which is 543 years ahead of the western calendar. For example, the year AD 2006 is equal to the year 2549 BE.