Elections in Asia and the Pacific: A Data Handbook: South East Asia, East Asia and the South Pacific - Vol. 2

By Dieter Nohlen; Florian Grotz et al. | Go to book overview
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Brunei

by Florian Grotz


1 Introduction

1.1 Historical Overview

The sultanate of Brunei is situated on the northwestern coast of the island of Borneo and is bounded by the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. Ruled by a royal family since the 14th century and under British influence since the 1880s, Negara Brunei Darussalam (Brunei—Abode of Peace) gained full independence in 1984. Apart from hesitant attempts to establish a quasi-parliamentary organ in the 1960s, this small country has had no experience with national elections and representative political institutions. The absolute power of the monarch rests on an Islamic state ideology and a far-reaching welfare state financed from rich oil revenues. Therefore, Brunei's polity seems closer to that of some Arab emirates than to its neighbours' in Southeast Asia.

The sultanate of Brunei came under British rule by the Protectorate Agreement of 17 September 1888. Although the protectorate status concerned mainly the sphere of foreign affairs, and the Sultan remained the chairman of the traditionally supreme State Council, since the early 20th century the actual political power laid in the hands of the British Resident. During World War II Brunei was occupied by Japanese forces from 1941 to 1945, after which period Great Britain restored its administration. Since the mid-1950s, however, when a growing number of Asian colonies was reaching independence, the future status of Brunei became a highly contested issue in domestic politics. On the one side, the traditional elite around Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III wanted to retain the monarchist-aristocratic regime, and thus opted for the gradual introduction of internal self-government. On the other side, the newly founded People's Party of Brunei (Partai Rakyat Brunei, PRB)—a socialist-oriented, mass-based party whose membership amounted to 75% of the male adult population—called for a rapid transition to democracy and for national independence.

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