A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. In 1932 a bloodless coup transformed the government of Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. Thailand was occupied by the Japanese during World War II until Japan's defeat in 1945. Since after the war, the country has seen turbulent times. The military governed, on and off, between 1947 and 1992 - a period characterized by coups, coup attempts and popular protests. In September 2006, the military once again stepped into politics, carrying out a bloodless coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. An interim prime minister was appointed a month later. Multi-party elections held in December 2007 subsequently restored democratic governance, although instability has continued at times.* Traditionally an agrarian nation, Thailand today boasts a complex, multifaceted economy embracing industries that employ the latest and most sophisticated technology. Its principal comparative advantage has been the abundance and diversity of its natural resources. With the government providing infrastructure support and exerting relatively limited control over private industry, a free-enterprise system has emerged, allowing rapid development to take place.
* Note on the 2006 coup and its after-effects --
In 2006, anti-government protesters known as "yellow shirts" took to the streets to rally for the ousting of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thanksin Shinawatra's record at the helm of Thailand was marked partially be successful economic stewardship as well as a litany of corruption charges. Later in that year, Thaksin was ousted from office in a military coup. Still, the "yellow shirts" were not able to force Thaksin forces fully from government since Thaksin allies won the first post-coup elections at the close of 2007. In 2008, the "yellow shirts" again launched anti-government protests.
By the close of 2008, they were able to spur the fall of the Thaksin-allied government. It was at that time that Abhisit Vejjajiva formed a new government. But since 2009, activists loyal to Thaksin, known as "red shirts," commenced their own demonstrations aimed at bringing down the current government, which was itself formed from the same protest dynamic. The situation had devolved into instability marked by violence and bloodshed, with hopes for reconciliation abandoned. While the military brought the protests to an end, Thailand was yet to escape fully from a state of political crisis.
By mid-2010, conflict between the two sides erupted once again, with violent repercussions and the deaths of close to 100 people. The opposition ("red shirts") argued that the prime minister and his government should be blamed for resorting to the use of live ammunition against them. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva survived a no-confidence vote in the lower chamber of parliament following a two-day censure debate in parliament over the hard line measures taken by the government against the "red-shirts" protesters.
In 2011, the Thai people had registered their political allegiances at the ballot box. In those elections, the Thai people elected the Pheu Thai Party of Yingluck Shinawatra -- sister of the ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The election outcome constituted vindication for the "red shirt" supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, who have commanded strong support at the polls for years, but who have been thwarted by the "yellow shirts" from being allowed to retain power, starting with the coup d'etat in 2006. It was also something of a repudiation against the hard-line military intervention associated with the "yellow shirts" and their political leadership.
There were high hopes that the 2011 elections marked the return of Thailand to a state of democracy and stability. That being said, in early 2012, the opposition continued its efforts to undermine the government, this time via repeated attempts to try to impeach Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.