It used to be called Siam before changing to Thailand (literally "land of the free") during World War I. The country, like Britain and Japan, is currently ruled by a constitutional monarch. In 1932 it acquired a legislature, but not until 1997 did they have a constitution "by the people".
Thailand's constitutional monarch was the main idea of the book-turned-movie "The King and I" starring Yul Brynner, which is banned in Thailand for featuring the king in an "un-kingly" way. Murray Head's song "One Night in Bangkok" is also banned there, for being audacious enough to talk about the nightlife (kathoeys and all) as it is.
The subject of the monarchy is actually fairly touchy in Thailand; you can get an up to 70-year jail sentence for offending the king, the former kings, the royal family, or even the king's dog (not kidding) in any way, as per lèse-majesté law. Leave the poor animal alone, goddamnit!
Though the former monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, didn't agree that he should be viewed as an infallible, godlike person, the military junta of 2014 have used lèse-majesté laws as a political weapon to stifle free speech. According to the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights "Statistics provided by Thai authorities show there has been a sharp fall in the number of people who have been able to successfully defend themselves against lèse majesté charges. From 2011-13, around 24 percent of people charged with the offence walked free, but over the next three years, that number fell to about 10 percent. Last year, that figure was only 4 percent."
His son and the current king, Vajiralongkorn, though, is not so revered and is often discussed and gossiped about by the populace, because of, you know, his competence to rule. Not publicly, though (well, obviously).
Thailand has one of the highest Buddhist population percentages in the world (95%), with around 3% Muslim and 1% Christian. Buddhists in Thailand are mainly of the Theravada Buddhism school, the oldest (and most strict) teachings of Buddha. Though Buddhism (at least the Theravada sect) does not recognize any all-powerful, all-knowing, all-etc. deities, it does recognize angels and reincarnation. Combine the latter with Thailand's own Hindu/Indian-influenced history, and you get a population in which Buddhists pray to all sorts of beings and spirits (including a very "Buddhist" Vishnu), all the while peacefully managing to not question the authenticity of others' beliefs (because, unlike other places, Buddhists recognize their beliefs as, well, beliefs). Thai Buddhists believe in ideas like the Buddhist heaven and hell, their ideas of who goes to heaven and hell are very different from Christians. Buddhists go to heaven or hell depending on their karma, or the sum of good and bad one has one throughout their life and previous lives. Therefore, it's fairly rare to see (Thai) Buddhists preaching people to convert others into their religion (though this also may be because almost everyone is a Buddhist to some extent). Sure, you might be threatened with "you're going to hell for drinking/lying!" (breaches of the Five Precepts), but the thing is, everyone does it all the time, except for the monks (in theory, anyway). The idea of Buddhist infallibility/inerrancy isn't exactly known to the Buddhist community and has never been pushed out to the populace (because they recognize Buddhism as a spiritual belief/philosophy, not an absolute truth, and Buddhism itself doesn't commend "blind faith").
"Temple schools", contrary to their name, are actually pretty normal (and charity-based) schools that just happen to be in a temple. In an ironic twist, "Temple kid (dek-wat เด็กวัด)" is a derogatory term for an "uneducated" and "uncivilized" kid, alluding to the poor lifestyles of children in temple schools, who are mostly poor and run on charity (so you can guess the level of education they get).
Thai schools also have a "Social Studies" subject in their (horrible[note 1]) teaching curriculum that has a (large) subset known as "religion" — mostly the history of the Buddha, modern Buddhist teachings, and a brief history of other religions.
Thailand's political policies are divided on pretty much nothing — they all pretty much support anything that's going to keep the GDP of Thailand from being crap, be it agriculture, tourism, industrialization, education, drug deaths, prostitution, preserving natural parks, etc. The difference is a lot of their ideas turn out to be crap (a recent prime minister carried out a policy where "every 1st grader was to get a free tablet") or their ideas are good but the execution is crap (mostly every policy, because they're so corrupt).
Well, actually, Thailand's politics are divided — but on a single businessman known as Thaksin Shinawatra. Basically, it's like the American game of pro-Bush vs. anti-Bush; if you support Thaksin on the notion that he wasn't corrupt and he didn't deserve to be ousted in a coup, you're on the Red side of the political schemes (their only differentiating policies are aimed at getting Thaksin back from exile), and if you think Thaksin was an idiot who is escaping a good 50-years of prison by fleeing the country, you're on the Not Red ("Yellow") side of the spectrum. That's it. Naturally, the rural areas are pro-Thaksin, and the urban areas are anti-Thaksin. Both sides accuse the other of being brainwashed and often rally protests against each other. Seriously, this is how Thailand's politics are divided. Not religion, not gay marriage (illegal, by the way), not abortion (illegal, but widespread). Just fucking Thaksin.
The military of Thailand has a curious habit of overthrowing the government, which they have done twelve times since the 1930s.
So they're due for another any year now. The current (as of May 2014) military government claims that 110% 99% of the population is happy with their performance.
- No, really. I was there.
- CIA World Factbook
- Press briefing note on Thailand by Rupet Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Erin Hale (30 November 2016). "4 Facebook Posts That Can Get You Arrested In Thailand; section Make fun of the King's dog; fined 500,000 baht with 86 days in prison". Forbes. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- Lese-majeste explained: How Thailand forbids insult of its royalty - BBC News
- http://www.otpc.in.th/aboutus.html, if you can read it, of course
- This government claims 99% of its people are happy with it (Tuesday, 22 Dec 2015 | 8:36 PM ET) CNBC.