Population and society
More than a fifth of the Thai population is under the age of 15. However, the country’s population growth rate has steadily declined over the past few decades, also thanks to the success of the birth control programs adopted since the 1970s.
Moreover, despite the constant increase in the urban population, Thailand still remains a predominantly rural country, where two thirds of the residents live in the countryside. The majority of the urban population is concentrated instead in the metropolitan area of Bangkok. From an ethnic point of view, Thailand is one of the most homogeneous countries in Southeast Asia: 75% of its residents are of Thai ethnicity, while 14% have at least one Chinese ancestor. However, it is estimated that the figure that best approximates the reality of this share could be close to 30% of the total, with peaks in large cities (around 70% in Bangkok). The numbers are so uncertain because successive governments have followed assimilation policies since the 1940s, so much so that today the population of Chinese descent is considered among the best integrated in the entire region. Within the country, however, some pronounced ethnolinguistic variations can be traced. Almost a third of the residents of the north of the country, for example, speak a variant of the Lao language. Not only that: there are differences in prestige between the Thai language of Bangkok and the Thai variants of the north and north-east, another expression of political fractures and tensions.
The main social glue of Thailand is constituted by religion: 95% of the residents belong to the Buddhist confession, and almost all adhere to doctrines that refer to the Theravāda school. Despite this, it is a religious minority that constitutes one of the biggest problems for the country: 4% of Muslim faithful are mostly of Malay ethnicity and live in southern Thailand, on the border with Malaysia. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the separatist tendencies of this ethnic group have exploded again in an escalation of violence, resulting in the deaths of soldiers and civilians. Finally, a final point of importance concerns the status of immigrants and refugees in the country. On the one hand, due to twenty years of strong immigration from neighboring countries and the restrictive Thai immigration laws as well as the presence of peripheral areas in the past difficult to control by the central authority, it is estimated that about half a million people are stateless. On the other hand, although Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it currently recognizes refugee status to 84,479 refugees and UNHCR also estimates that 57,500 Burmese, living in nine camps along the border, would be eligible.
Freedom and rights
Between 2001 and 2006, during Thaksin’s premierate, one of the most controversial issues regarding the level of civil liberties was the strong monopoly of information in the hands of the prime minister. Thaksin also periodically used accusations of defamation – a crime for which penalties are high – to silence his critics. Since the military coup of September 2006, with the deposition and exile of Thaksin, the media monopoly has been broken, but the indictments for defamation have not ceased, albeit decreasing in number.
The 2007 Constitution had restored some freedoms, but the new temporary Constitution of 2014, while recognizing in principle greater political and civil freedoms, leaves ample room for maneuver to the Executive which, if necessary, can suspend or cancel these rights. For Thailand democracy and rights, please check homeagerly.com.
Extensive interpretations of the lese-majesty law also allow for penalties of up to 15 years in prison to be imposed on anyone who directs insults towards the king, the royal family or Buddhism. The growing tendency to justify arrests on the basis of the lese majesty rule reached its maximum intensity and found new life after the coup.
Internet access is limited to around a quarter of the population. In addition, government censorship, established in 2003 and initially aimed at limiting the circulation of pornographic material, has since 2006 been increasingly used to shut down sites that are considered a threat to national security, including those of Muslim separatist groups.