The micro-state of Negara Brunei Darussalam (NBD) is the last Southeast Asian country that gained full independence from the Western power, i.e. Great Britain in January 1984. It has been well known for its richness in natural resources, namely oil and natural gas. In addition, its present ruler, His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is known as one of the richest men in the world. Brunei’s wealth and stability is so great that since January 1, 1996 Brunei has been officially ranked as a developed nation by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with one of the world’s highest per capita income, $19,000. However, in terms of democratic development, it lags far behind many of its neighbours. Like France before 1789 or Thailand in the early 20th century, Brunei Darussalam is still ruled by the absolute monarchy, the last one in Southeast Asia. As a result, it is interesting to consider the stability and the future of the absolute monarchy in this country.
This article will argue that the use of state’s (or the Sultan’s) revenue from oil and natural gas in social welfare, the promotion of official ideology, the Sultan’s charisma, the limit of middle class, and strict control over the civil society make the absolute monarchy in Brunei stable. However, in the long term, the absolute monarchy is unsustainable because, in order to reduce dependence on oil revenues, the government must accelerate the diversification of economy whose result may be demands for political participation. The essay will consider political development in Brunei since the transfer of executive power from the colonial power to the Sultan in 1959, factors which bring about the stability of the absolute monarchy, and the future of the regime respectively.
Mohan Srilal, ”Pampered Sultanate told to change its old ways,” Asia Times, <> , accessed November 11, 2002.