Brunei

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Brunei

Brunei (brōōnī´) or Brunei Darussalam (där´əsəläm´), officially State of Brunei Darussalam, sultanate (2005 est. pop. 372,400), 2,226 sq mi (5,765 sq km), NW Borneo, on the South China Sea. Its two sections, separated by Brunei Bay, are surrounded by Sarawak, Malaysia. The capital and major port of Brunei is Bandar Seri Begawan (formerly Brunei; 1991 est. pop. 46,229).

Land and People

The mountains in the nation's east give way to a flat coastal plain; western Brunei consists of hilly lowlands. The tropical climate is typically hot and humid with frequent rain. About two thirds of the population are Malays, but the Chinese community, consisting of about 15% of the people, dominates the economy. Some 6% of the people are of indigenous descent. Malay is the official language, but English and Chinese are also spoken. Islam is the predominant and official religion; there are minorities of Buddhists, Christians, and those holding traditional beliefs.

Economy

Crude oil and liquefied natural gas are Brunei's main exports and the country's economic mainstays; petroleum products are also produced. The government is attempting to promote economic diversification; clothing is manufactured, and there are banking, tourism, and construction industries. Rice, vegetables, and fruits are grown, and chickens, water buffalo, cattle, and goats are raised. Forests are strictly protected, and timber cutting is allowed only for local use. Brunei imports machinery, transportation equipment, manufactured goods, foodstuffs, and chemicals. The main trading partners are Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and South Korea.

Government

Brunei is a constitutional sultanate governed under the constitution of 1959, although some provisions have been suspended. The sultan is both head of state and head of government. The unicameral legislature consists of the 29-member Legislative Council, whose members are appointed by the sultan. Administratively, the country is divided into four districts.

History

A native sultanate was established at Brunei in the 15th cent. At one time the sultan controlled nearly all of Borneo, but by the 19th cent. his power had declined and Brunei had become a haven for pirates. In 1888 the British established a protectorate over Brunei, administered by a British resident, although the sultan retained formal authority. The Japanese overran the area during World War II.

In 1959 a written constitution went into effect. Under it, the sultanate remained and the protectorate was governed by a chief minister, council of ministers, and elected legislative body. Following elections won by an antimonarchist left-wing party in 1962 and an abortive uprising by the party's military wing, a state of emergency was proclaimed and the legislature disbanded. Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah became sultan in 1967. In 1970 the legislature was made an appointed body. Following the signing of a treaty with the British in 1979, Brunei became fully independent in 1984, and the legislature was suspended the same year. After independence the sultan became an absolute monarch, and oil revenues were used to create a prosperous welfare state, but oil and natural gas exports are expected to decrease during the 21st cent.

The 1997–98 Asian economic crisis affected Brunei, which lost billions of dollars in investments. In 1998 the sultan's son, Prince al-Muhtadee Billah, was installed as heir to the throne. After a 20-year hiatus, the sultan convened the appointed legislature in 2004 and signed a constitutional amendment calling for a 45-seat council with 15 elected members. However, the sultan dissolved the legislature in 2005 and appointed a new 29-member council. In 2014 the country began a two-year process of adopting Islamic law (sharia) as the basis for its legal system.

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