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Military dictators ruled the nation until the early 1970s; the military remained a powerful force in national politics into the early 1990s.Since that time, its role has diminished, and a new constitution was adopted in 1997.Smaller ethnic groups are scattered throughout the country, especially in the north and the northeast.Bangkok has been the capital since the late eighteenth century, when it replaced the earlier capital of Ayutthaya, which was sacked by Burmese invaders in 1767.There are about 75 ethnic groups, and approximately 84 percent of the population is Thai, including people from other Tai-speaking ethnic groups; the Thai, constitute about 36 percent of the population.
In the isolated inland areas of the south, there are about 1,000 forest-dwelling peoples referred to as Orang Asli in Malay. Thai is a Daic language in the southwestern Tai group.The Pattani Malay, Malay, and Kedah Malay populations live in an area associated with the kingdom of Patani, which fell under Thai control in 1786.The nineteen Tibeto-Burman-speaking groups include nine groups that speak Karen languages.With a population of almost 10 million, Bangkok is the most important city politically and economically.About twenty smaller regional cities have populations of two hundred to three hundred thousand. The population estimate for 2000 is approximately 62 million.