Thailand, as Siam came to be renamed, is in many respects the most advanced state in mainland south-east Asia, in spite of the fact that the succeeding authority to its absolute monarchy has been, effectively, the army. Army officers frequently wear ‘two hats’, meaning they have another job in the nominally civilian administration. Parliamentary democracy has been regularly punctuated by military coups, although an increasingly educated and assertive middle class has, over the last decade, become less tolerant of the pervasive influence of the military. The Thai armed forces, numbering more than 270,000, nevertheless remain a significant force in the community — even, in the last analysis, the decisive one.
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