The history of Thailand starts with the migration of the ethnic Thai from their ancestral homelands in the south of China to the regions of Southeast Asia during the 10th century. Before that time the Mon, Khmer and the Malays ruled the region. The Thais founded their own kingdoms, one in Sukhothai and one in Ayutthaya. These states fought constantly against each other while they were simultaneously threatened by the Khmers, the Burmese and the Vietnamese. Only much later, in the 19th and early 20th century was Thailand under threat from the European colonial powers, but managed, as the only Southeast Asian state, to avoid colonial rule. This is mainly due to the fact, that Thailand had several very able rulers during the 19th century who exploited the rivalry between the colonial powers, France and Great Britain, who controlled Indochina and Burma respectively, to keep them out of their own country. Nevertheless, Thailand was forced to give up three of its southern provinces, which are now part of Malaysia. A fourth of those predominantly muslim provinces, namely Pattani, remains to this day Thai territory and has in recent years been the scene of violent ethnic clashes.
When, in 1932, a bloodless revolution ended the absolute monarchy, Thailand came under the rule of successive military governments before a democratic system was finally established in the 1980s.
His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X)
Because of its geographical location the culture of the Thai people has always been influenced by other cultures in the region such as the Indian and the Chinese. The Buddhist kingdom of Sukhothai, however, is generally considered to be the first Siamese state. It was founded in 1238, at a time when the Khmer empire started to decline, which eventually disintegrated during the 15th century.
During the 16th century Sukhothai succumbed to the larger Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya, which had its origins in the 14th century. After Angkor was sacked by the Siamese armies in 1431, more and more of the Khmer culture and customs were adopted by the Siamese of Ayutthaya.
After the Burmese conquered Ayutthaya in 1767, Thonburi became for a short period the capital of Thailand during the reign of King Taksin The Great. The modern era of the Thai history began in 1782, when Bangkok became the capital under King Rama I, the founder of the Chakri Dynasty.
As already mentioned, the absolute monarchy was turned into a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and since then Thailand has suffered from continuous political ups and downs. During World War II Thailand, although under duress, sided with the Japanese and became therefore the staging area for Japans campaign against Malaysia. In July 1944 the government renewed its alliance with the western powers. During the Vietnam War American troops used Thailand, and in particular Pattaya in the province of Chonburi, as a base for rest and recreation and Map Ta Phut (U-Tapao) became a landing place for their bombers who executed bombing missions over Vietnam and parts of Cambodia.
The first of several major military coups took place in 1976. Others followed in 1981 and 1985 and another one in 1991, which in the following year led to a popular rebellion that was brutally suppressed by the military, an event that has become known as the “Black May”.
Subsequently, after several years of strong economic growth, Thailand became an economic powerhouse, but the year 1997 put an end to that, when the Baht collapsed under the weight of foreign debts. This downfall led to a chain reaction that sparked the Asian currency crisis. Meanwhile Thailand has recuperated and is once again in a stable financial position.
In January 2001 the leader of the newly created Thai Rak Thai Party, Thaksin Shinawatra, became prime minister of Thailand. This billionaire telecommunications mogul was immensely popular, mainly because of his populistic policies, but when he announced plans in 2003 to put an end to the drug trade in Thailand and some 2,300 people were killed in the process of that campaign, his popularity began to dwindle.
Meanwhile on December 26, 2004, a powerful tsunami which hit 12 Asian countries devastated wide areas of Thailand`s Andaman coast (Phuket, Phi-Phi, Krabi, Khao-Lak), where an estimated 5,300 people lost their lives.
Despite allegations of corruption and all sorts of other “irregularities” Thaksin made history one year later by becoming the first Thai prime minister to serve two consecutive terms in office. But his misdeeds finally caught up with him, when he sold his telecommunications company for nearly 2 billion Dollars and didn`t pay one cent tax. Thaksin was forced to resign, but after only a few weeks he was once again at the helm of the nation. Finally, in September 2006, the military, led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, staged yet another coup while Thaksin attended a meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Thaksin went into self imposed exile, while his Thai Rak Thai Party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court. The military meanwhile set up an interim government which took charge of the nation's affairs until in December 2007 new parliamentary elections were held which were won by the People Power Party, composed mainly of former Thai Rak Thai politicians.
Thaksin returned to Thailand in February 2008, saying that he was prepared to face the courts in relation to the corruption charges brought against him. When his wife, Potjaman Shinawatra, was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to three years jail, while Thaksin himself did not show up for a scheduled court appearance, the couple fled the country. They had to leave their vast fortune behind, after it had been frozen when the military ousted Thaksin from his post as prime minister. Thaksin was later found guilty of corruption and convicted in absentia to two years in prison.
The new government of the People Power Party didn`t last long either, because many people in Thailand, especially the business community as well as certain elements in the middle class, weren`t happy to be governed by former Thai Rak Thai politicians. Mass demonstrations finally forced the government out of office. It was officially disbanded by the Constitutional Court on December 2, 2008 on the grounds that it had committed electoral fraud during the 2007 elections.
On December 15, parliament elected Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party, prime minister of Thailand. But shortly after, a democratic election has brought the former leaders sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the nations first female prime minister, to the top position on August 5th, 2011 who won the election by a landslide. But protests restarted by the End of 2013 led by a former opposition leader demanding the end of the Thaksin area. Responding the protests, Yingluck dissolved parliament End of 2013 and proposed a new election that was thwarted by anti-government protesters.
After numerous power struggles in politics and on the streets of the big cities, the constitutional court decided that Yingluck has to step down as prime minister. In August 2014, she has been replaced by the army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha and later on, martial law has been declared.
The ruling junta has promised to hold free elections but wants to setup a new constitution and bring peace and reconciliation to Thailand before it will take place.
On October 13th, 2016, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, aged 88, passed away in Thailands capital Bangkok. Fifty days later, his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, aged 64, ascended the throne as Thailands tenth king of the Chakri dynasty.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha