While 2014 has held numerous important changes for Brunei Darussalam, the nation has long maintained its unique balance of tradition and modernity. Situated on the South China Sea, the Sultanate shares the island of Borneo with the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the five provinces of Indonesian Kalimantan. As the sole fully sovereign nation on the island of Borneo, Brunei Darussalam has maintained its current form since its independence from the UK in 1984. However, its national identity far predates independence, with the current ruling royal family establishing the Sultanate in 1368 through the first Bruneian Sultan Muhammad Shah. Following a golden age in the 15th16th centuries, which saw the Sultanate significantly expand its influence and borders, European influence arrived in 1521 with the landing of a Portuguese expedition under Ferdinand Magellan.
Volatile relations with European superpowers continued in the form of skirmishes with Spanish fleets, eventually resulting in extensive disruption of trade and economic decline. British influence in the Sultanate dates back to 1846 leading to the establishment of Brunei Darussalam as a British protectorate for nearly a century between 1888 and 1984. Under the former ruler, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III, the nation pursued greater self-rule, culminating in independence from the UK in 1984 under the His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Brunei Darussalam has since experienced rapid economic growth due in large part to its natural wealth in the form of petroleum and natural gas fields. Moving forward, the Sultanate is targeting sustainable growth through the promotion of non-energy-related industries and the development of human capital.
Brunei Darussalam has maintained a stable form of government since its independence, with His Majesty serving as head of state since 1967, in addition to his other duties as prime minister, minister of defence, minister of finance and supreme commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces. The Sultanate follows succession protocol according to male primogeniture and Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, the eldest son of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah born in 1974, is first in the line of succession.
The Sultanate can be classified as a unitary Islamic monarchy with a Legislative Council made up of 36 seats forming the parliament, three of which are ex-officio. The Cabinet, forming the chief executive body of the Sultanate, is composed of: the sultan in his roles as prime minister, minister of finance and minister of defence; the crown prince in his role as senior minister; HRH Prince Mohamed in his role as minister of foreign affairs and trade; and the ministers of education, health, development, communication, industry and primary resources, energy, religious affairs, home affairs, culture, youth and sports, as well as the second ministers for finance, and foreign affairs and trade.
Geographically, Brunei Darussalam is split into four separate districts. Brunei-Muara is home to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. While the smallest by total area at just 571 sq km, it is by far the largest by population and is home to an estimated 290,500 people, or just over 70% of the Sultanate’s total population of 406,200. Belait District is the western-most of the four and is home to the nation’s hydrocarbons industry. Belait covers 2724 sq km and has a population of 62,500. Tutong, with a total area of 1166 sq km, has a population of 44,300. The Temburong District is an exclave, split off from the rest of Brunei Darussalam by the Malaysian district of Limbang. It contains much of the Sultanate’s virgin rainforests and is a popular eco-tourism destination. The four districts are further divided into 38 sub-divisions, known as mukim.
Commanding the second-highest GDP per capita among all ASEAN member nations at $39,700 in 2013, trailing only Singapore, Brunei Darussalam remains one of the most advanced economies in the South-east Asian region. Following its successful chairmanship of ASEAN in 2013, Brunei Darussalam will look to continue in its role as a regional leader in areas ranging from defence to commerce.
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