History of Thailand
Thailand was formerly known as Siam, and it is believed the original Siamese people migrated from South Western China over a long period of time around 10 AD.
There were already indigenous people who had been in what we know call South East Asia for 500,000 years, archaeological findings confirm that. Important finds in Lampang Province were dated 500,000 to one million years ago. Other ancient digs in Thailand have produced human remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Evidence suggest that the Northern area of Thailand was heavily populated at that time. The first humans to settle in this area were Mon, Malay and Khmer civilisations. There is evidence of a few trading settlements in the south forming into a group, indeed Roman coins were found there dated at 161 AD. There are inscriptions at Ankor Wat in Cambodia, dating back to 12 AD, that mention Siamese people. It is thought that the word Siam came from the Sanskrit word Syam meaning brown race. Thai people never saw themselves as Siam, rather Mueng Thai and according to Portuguese diaries in the 15th century, the country was referred to as Siam. They wrote that the King of Sukothai had dispatched a party of men to Malacca, the very tip of the Malay Peninsula.
The Dvaravati, a branch of Mon were known to live in the central part of Thailand in what is now the Chao Phraya basin, evidence dates from 7 – 10 AD. A group of foreign archaeologists found the Dvaravati centre in Nakon Pathom, the name Dvaravati was found inscribed on an artifact. In later years many other Dvaravati settlements were found along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The inscriptions found showed that the Dvaravati used Mon and Sanskrit and the religion they practiced was Theravada, thought to have come from Sri Lanka. Many fine examples of art were found with Buddha images. Examples of Khmer script were found in settlements to the east showing the Khmer influence at that time.
Dvaravati was not a nation, rather a large colony of trading groups and its influence stretched to Isaan in the north and the Isthmus of Kra in the south. There is strong evidence to suggest they were trading with the Romans at that time. They seemed to gradually fade out around 11 AD and were replaced by the Khmer people.
The Tais arrived from Guangxi Province in China, in fact there are still some Tai people living there at present. At around 750 AD, Tais were migrating into the northern areas and they formed cities like Chiang Saen and Luang Prabang. In 800 AD, the Wa people inhabited the area and the Tai leader, Simhanavati drove them out and founded the city of Chiang Saen. The Tais then made contact with Hariphunchai, an Indian civilisation of South East Asia and adopted Theravada as the religion. A temple constructed in 850 AD, shows that Theravada was practiced by the Tais and in 900 AD, war broke out between the Hariphunchai and Tai civilisations which resulted in the Tai defeat with the King fleeing. However in 937 AD, Prince Prom the Great retook Chiang Saen from the Hariphunchai, inflicting heavy defeat and almost eradicating them completely. Shortly after this, within a few years, the city was destroyed by a massive earthquake with many killed. In the aftermath, a Wa named Lavachakkaraj, was elected as King and his dynasty lasted nearly 500 years. The Tais moved south and formed settlements along the northern Chao Phraya valley, while under threat in the south from Khmer forces.
The Lavo era came around 11 AD. Dvaravati split into two areas, Lavo, which is now Lopburi and Supannabhum, which is now Supanburi. The Northern Chronicles state that in 903 Ad, the king of Tambralinga captured Lavo and replaced the King with a Malay Prince. This Prince married a Khmer Princess and their son became Suryavarman 1, which put Lavo under Khmer control. During his reign, King Suryavarman 1 fought many battles and expanded his territory in the north (Isaan) and built many Temples. King Suryavarman 1 failed to produce a male heir and upon his death in 1058 AD, King Anawratha of Bagan invaded Lavo and married a local Princess and this era reached its peak with King Narai (1072–1076). In 1080 the Burmese tried unsuccessfully to rout Lavo but after Narai’s death, there was an uprising and bloody conflict. The Khmer King Suryavarman 2 invaded and captured Lavo and proclaimed his son King of Lavo. Over a long period, Lavo was gradually turned into a Khmer holding, with their influence affecting the religion, turning to Hindu. There are recordings at Ankor Wat that the Lavo army was a part of the Khmer Empire.
The Sukothai period was formed in 1238 AD by, a King who cared for his people. He had a bell outside the Palace that the people could ring and he would counsel them. Sukothai was strong under King Ramkhamhaeng The Great, he was the founder of the Thai alphabet and when he died in 1365, Sukothai grew weak and was eventually controlled by Ayuthaya, an emerging province in the lower Chao Phraya basin. An ally of Sukothai was the state of Lanna, with its capital in chaing Mai. Controlled by King Phya Mangrai. Lanna were staunch allies of Sukothai and many hard fought battles ensued before Lanna was finally subdued. Lanna’s independence was lost in 1558 when the Burmese invaded. Lanna stayed under Burmese control until the mid-18th century when King Taksin rallied local leaders and Lanna was retaken as part of the Thai Kingdom.
Ayuthaya, as a city, had a very advantageous location, located on a small island with three rivers passing through it. The city soon became prosperous and powerful and King Ramathibodi I ruled from 1351 to 1369 and he made some important contributions to Thai history, first he made Theravada the official religion in his land as well as drawing borders with the neighbouring kingdom of Ankor. Ayuthaya reigned for more than 400 years but in this time, there was a lot of internal conflict.
In 1511, Portuguese ambassador Duarte Fernandes visited Ayuthaya and it was known to Europeans as The Kingdom of Siam. Over the next hundred years, Ayuthaya flourished by trading with French, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese traders. There were great developments in the field of medicine during the Ayuthaya period. The Ayuthaya region was large, to the Ankor in the East, the muslim states in the Malayan Peninsula and the states in Northern Thailand. In the 18th century, Ayuthaya was weakened by internal political fighting and in 1767, the Burmese, who had laid seige to the city for months, broke through the walls of Ayuthaya and burned the city down. The Royal family fled the city and king Ekkathat died during the escape, leaving no heir, the Ayuthaya reign was finally over after more than thirty Kings had reigned.
Thonburi and Bangkok Period
After the Burmese sacked Ayuthaya in 1767, Genral Taksin managed to recapture Ayuthaya and reunite Thailand from his new capital in Thonburi and proclaimed himself King Taksin the Great in 1769. He later went insane and disappeared into the forest, never to be seen again. General Chakri, who later became Rama 1 in 1782, took over the country in Taksin’s absence. He was the first of the Chakri Dynasty and his capital was at Rattanakosin island.
The descendants of Rama 1 were worried about foreign powers invading their land after the British defeated Burma in 1826 and King Rama III signed an agreement with the British that effectively handed them four of the southern Malay states. The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 gave back to Siam, the states of Satun, Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala. At around this time, the French also made treaties with Siam which gave them territory now known as Laos and Cambodia.
The end of Absolute Monarchy
A group of military officers and civil servants led the Siamese Revolution of 1932. The group took hostages of the Royal family while King Rama VII was at his summer Palace in Hua Hin. This coup changed Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy with the Prime Minister presiding over the government. This was not the first time a change had been attempted, in 1912 a group of military officers were arrested while plotting a similar coup. King Prajadhipok, Rama VII accepted the change but he abdicated shortly after, citing conflicts within the government. The King’s ten year old nephew Ananda Mahidol, was installed as the new King. The next ten years saw turmoil within the government as power struggles between rival military officers were fuelled by communism fears until the military faction eventually overcame their opponents. They installed Plaek Phibunsongkhram as the new Prime Minister and in 1941, they decided to ally with Japan. After the shock death of young Ananda Mahidol, King Rama VII, in 1946, his brother Bhumibol Adulyadej was crowned King.
In January 1941, Thailand invaded French Indochina with the Thai force vastly outnumbering the French and they retook Laos. The French retaliated with a naval battle (battle of Koh Chang) on January 17th 1941 and sank two Thai Navy ships, one a battleship. This was shortly followed by a treaty between the two countries which was signed in Japan on December 9th with the French handing back disputed territories.
On December 8th 1941, a few hours after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, Japan invaded Thailand and began to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan border. The Thai army retaliated and there was fierce fighting until Plaek Phibunsongkhram, a prominent politician, ordered hostilities to cease. Not long after this, the Japanese army were given free passage and on December 21st 1941 and agreement was signed with Tokyo promising to help Thailand regain territory lost to the British and French, namely Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Thailand then agreed to aid Japan in the war against the allies and there was deep mistrust on both sides. There was a freedom movement called Seri Thai which operated underground and their goal was to rid Thailand of the Japanese invaders and they supported the allies in the war against Japan. The movement was founded by Seni Pramoj, Thai Ambassador to USA, who was actually a descendant of Rama II.
The Prime Minister of Thailand declared war on Great Britain and the United States of America on 25th January 1942 and the Ambassador to Great Britain delivered the declaration however Seri Pramoj refused to do so, preferring to organise a resistance movement in the US. After a short meeting with his American counterpart, Seri returned to his staff and they decided to take matters into their own hands and side with the allies. Looking back, this was a monumental step taken by one man and it avoided a certain invasion and defeat of Thai military forces by the allies.
He returned to the US office and told them of their decision to back the allies, citing that some politicians in Thailand had business connections with Japan therefore they were overly sympathetic to their cause. Seri succeeded in unlocking Thai assets frozen in the US in order to facilitate the anti-Japanese movement in Thailand. The US government decided to accept Seri as the representative of the Thai government and many Thais refused repatriation after the declaration of war.
Seri Pramoj was made Prime Minister upon his return to Bangkok on September 17th 1945. After Japan’s defeat earlier in the same year, a close bond was formed between Thailand and America. The US saw Thailand as a steadfast against communism and they were very concerned about its spread in South East Asia at that time. Indeed it was the CIA who introduced to practice of playing the National Anthem twice a day as they wanted to strengthen the Thai nationalistic feeling to keep out communism.
The road to democracy
After 1973, the transition from military rule to a democracy has been long and often bloody with several reversals taking place. In the 1980’s Thailand’s Prime Minister was a strong willed man who restored and maintained parliamentary politics. The country remained democratic with the exception of brief military rule in 1991 and 1992. The Thai Rak Thai party, led by Thaksin Shinawattra, a successful business tycoon and former Police Colonel came to power in 2001. Thaksin was very popular among the rural poor because of his social development programs but he came under attack from the loyalist elite, who feared a parliamentary dictatorship. In 2005, Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon, formed a protest group called Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The government dissolved parliament on September 19th 2006 and Thaksin became the leader of a provisional government. While Thaksin was in New York attending a UN meeting, there was a bloodless coup led by General Sondi Boonyaratglin with the support of the Democrat party and other anti-Thaksin factions. A general election was held on December 23rd 2007 and a newly elected government was headed by Samak Sundaravej of The People’s Power Party. In 2008, PAD led growing numbers of people in protests against Samak’s government, alleging that he was involved with the ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawattra.
In August of 2008, PAD supporters seized some government buildings, including Government House, which they ransacked, while demanding the government step down immediately. Then they took the extraordinary step of seizing Suwannaphum airport, leaving three thousand passengers stranded, causing it to close. The seige began on November 26th and lasted until December 2nd when the protesters finally agreed to leave. The clean-up took three days before flights could resume. A strange thing is that no one has ever been prosecuted for this. The siege ended after a constitutional court disbanded three political parties that made up the government, for election fraud.
The new government was an alliance between Democrat and smaller factions with Aphisit Vejajiva as the new Prime Minister and Suthep Thaugsuban as his deputy. However the red shirts, United front for Democracy against Dictatorship or UDD, refused to accept the new government saying that the military had interfered in politics and therefore it was not democratic.
In April 2009, just before the traditional Thai New Year celebrations, the UDD amassed 100,000 people and marched to Government House. The government declared a state of emergency and the military were brought into the capital. Fighting broke out between pro-government supporters and red shirts, with the neutral population also angry at the continual disruptions caused by the protests. On Monday 13th April (Songkran Day) the army fired tear gas and live rounds to disperse a large crowd at the Din Daeng intersection, with more than 70 casualties. Aphisit’s government were aware of the damage that Thakin’s live broadcasts were causing them so they decreed a censorship law which blocked the cable channels that broadcast the protests. On 21st April, Aphisit stated that he would use the media to discredit the UDD, with the government distributing millions of VCD’s highlighting the government stance. The state of emergency was finally lifted on 24th April 2013. Aphisit went on to revoke Thaksin’s passport, he had already revoked his diplomatic passport some time before, as well as issuing arrest warrants for protest leaders.
More than 120 people died during these unrests and Thailand lost billions of dollars due to the airport closure and the riots across the city. There have been many complaints of unlawful shootings but none have been substantiated.
The following year, 2010 saw continued unrest,
The Thai Supreme Court ordered a freeze on Thaksin’s assets in Thailand and the UDD publicly stated they would not protest if that happened however they did call for nationwide movement to call for elections on March 14th. The government increased security measures and made preparation for an increase in unrest and on March 9th, invoked the Internal Security Act, then mobilised a 50,000 strong security force in Bangkok. Police checkpoints were set up along the northern routes that UDD supporters would take, looking for weapons and generally trying to deter them from making the trip.
The March 14th protest was very large and peaceful. The protesters gathered at Government House and other government buildings, before collecting a tiny drop of blood from all the supporters and symbolically smearing it on the floor and surrounding area as a form of sacrifice against the government. Negotiation were set up and continued into May but they failed to reach an agreement. There were dozens of bombings in the capital and UDD protesters confronted the army in some areas, and Aphisit declared a state of emergency on April 8th 2010. Soldiers surrounded a TV relay station in a bid to close down People Channel, the UDD’s main media outlet and many protesters arrived and surrounded the station in the afternoon of April 9th. They stormed the gates and the military withdrew to avoid bloodshed as they feared many of the protesters were armed. On April 10th, more clashes erupted when troops stormed a red shirt encampment, firing live ammunition. Twenty five people were killed and more than 700 injured in that incident and tensions mounted. On April 22nd, a series of grenade explosions rocked the city, killing at least one and injuring more than 60 people, some foreigners included. On April 28th, government forces again clashed with protesters, firing live rounds over the red shirts. One soldier was killed by friendly fire and sixteen protesters were hurt. On May 19th there were more clashes and the Red shirt leaders, Jatuporn Prompan and Nattawut Saikua surrendered to police to prevent more bloodshed. Many buildings in Bangkok were torched but by the following day, the army had cleared all areas.
On July 3rd 2011, the Peu Thai Party, led by Yingluk Shinawattra (Thaksin’s younger sister) won a landslide victory at the polls and formed a new government. Despite criticism that she was merely a puppet for her brother, Yingluk has gained a lot of support, her government held up well during the floods of 2011 and it has been seen to develop the economy and infrastructure since coming to power. In 2012 the government attempted to push through an amnesty bill, to absolve those involved in the previous political protests, however the opposition alleged that this was initiated to clear the prison sentence passed on Thaksin during a brief visit to Thailand in 2008. He was sentenced in his absence, to two years in prison for abusing his political position to help his wife, Pojjaman buy some land. When the protests became quite large, Yingluck did a U turn and agreed to shelve the amnesty bill completely.
Before the Amnesty bill was withdrawn, it went through a series of amendments from only covering civilians and not government leaders or military personnel to cover all political events from 2004 – present. This would include the murder charges that Aphisit Vejajiva, the former Democrat Prime Minister and Suthep Thaugsuban are currently facing. It would also have white washed Thaksin’s prison sentence and this is what has infuriate his opponents.
A revised version of the bill was passed by the House of Representatives on November 1st 2013 and as well as opponents of Thaksin protesting, the UDD (United front for Democracy against Dictatorship) leaders also complained, saying it would absolve the leaders of the crackdown in 2010 in which more than 90 red shirt protesters were killed.
Despite the Prime Minister’s sudden U turn, the Protests have continued. Initiated by Suthep Thaugsuban, against the Amnesty Bill, it now focused on Yingluck and her government. Suthep rallied thousands of supporters and they marched on Government House, seized several government offices, including the large complex at Chaengwattana and the Ministries of Finance and Education. Suthep accused Yingluck of being a proxy for her brother Thaksin and publicly announced that he would not compromise on his terms, which were for Yingluck and her administration to resign immediately. For the next few days Suthep’s rallies moved around the city without any violence erupting and then at the end of November, the UDD red shirts decided to hold a rally at Hua Mark stadium on Ramkhamhaeng road. It was to be held on a Sunday and the evening prior to that saw thousands of coaches coming from the north east, converging on the arena. There were clashes with Ramkhmahaeng University students who claimed that some red shirt supporters desecrated a memorial of the founder of the university. Three people were killed and twenty five injured as cars and buses were burned. Things calmed down after the red shirts finished their rally and went home. Shortly after this, more than 130 Democrat MP’s, including Aphisit and Suthep, resigned from the House. Almost immediately the Prime Minister announced the dissolution of parliament and called for new elections to be organised within 60 days. Suthep still refused to stop his protests, demanding that Yingluck and her government resign immediately whereas Yingluck has stated that, according to the constitution, she is bound to stay on as caretaker until such time as a new government has been formed. To leave before that would be against the constitution, she added.
It seems that Suthep and his followers are determined to have their demands met, not only calling for the government’s immediate departure, they now want a political reform before the next election. There are those who say that Suthep knows the Peu Thai party will win another election and therefore he will not take part. Having watched some of his rally speeches (I’m fluent in Thai) I can say that he is using very strong language to incite the people. Things like asking them to withhold government taxes and refusing to work. Several arrest warrants have been issued against him including one for high treason, although he still remains at liberty. The stance of the Prime Minister is that she has tried to negotiate, she retracted the amnesty bill, as the protesters asked, she dissolved parliament and called for a new election, as they asked but she states she is not able to walk away from her position as this would be unconstitutional.
From a neutral point of view, I think Yingluck is steadily gaining popularity whereas Suthep is coming across too rigid and extreme and the longer the protests continue, the more people will be affected by his actions. The tourism industry is reporting a 30% cancellation of bookings over the New Year, while at least twenty countries have issued travel warnings to Thailand. He stated today (December 19th) that he wishes to have a reform panel before the election. To do what? This government was democratically elected and the number of people behind Suthep is not representative of the total electorate. If Suthep wishes to have the government removed, surely he should campaign for the next election, and let the people decide. Seizing government buildings and giving demands to the government is hardly democratic. The latest move by the anti government group is to shutdown Bangkok. They have occupied seven main areas and closed off the busy intersections, citing their wish to stop government workers from going to work. We are into Day 5 of the planned shutdown and the atmosphere in the whole city is tense.
Since then everything as become normal and Bangkok is now the most visited city in the world with over 26 million visits from tourist from every country.
Welcome to Thailand
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