BANGKOK Thais were voting on Sunday in a crucial election meant to revitalize democracy after years of deep political polarisation since a 2006 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party, led by his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is likely to emerge with the most votes but probably just short of a majority in the 500-seat parliament, a prospect that could lead to post-election instability which in turn could provoke another military coup, analysts say.
Following are some key facts about the country:
GEOGRAPHY - Total area 513,115 sq. km (191,113 sq. miles). Borders Myanmar to the north and west, Malaysia to the south, Laos to the northeast and Cambodia to the east.
POPULATION - 68 million.
ETHNICITY - Ethnic Thais predominate. Other groups are Malay (13 percent), Chinese (12 percent), Khmer, Karen, Indian and Vietnamese.
RELIGION - Overwhelmingly Buddhist. Muslims account for four percent of the population, mainly in the south.
LANGUAGE - Official language is Thai, although minority groups speak their own languages.
CAPITAL - Bangkok.
ECONOMY - The economy has been on a steady recovering path from the global economic and financial crisis in 2009 when it contracted 2.3 percent. It expanded a robust 7.8 percent in 2010 and is projected to grow 4.0-5.0 percent in 2011, fueled mainly by expected strong export growth of 20 percent and increased domestic consumption from promised increased public spending after the election.
- Annual inflation was 4.19 percent in May, its highest since September 2008 and up from 4.04 percent a month earlier.
- Most of the parties running for election have taken up various forms of Thaksin's big-spending populism, prompting concerns about the Thai fiscal outlook.
- Thailand is one of the largest producers of rice and natural rubber in the world and agriculture is the primary employment sector. It is also a major producer of automobiles and electronics for export and a popular tourist destination.
(Sources: Reuters, World Bank; Writing by Vithoon Amorn; Editing by Nick Macfie)