BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – One of the world’s longest-reigning monarchs, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is well loved and highly respected by his people in the state known as the “Abode of Peace”.
The 71-year-old monarch takes a direct hand in state affairs. He is the country’s prime minister, minister of defence, finance and foreign affairs and trade, and the supreme commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.
Bruneian student Ali Molhakim Awang Piut, 19, said everyone he knows, from urban dwellers to villagers, are grateful to have a strong and committed leader like him.
“His heart is with the people and he has a strong sense of duty. Whenever there’s a natural disaster, His Majesty will see to it that all the aid that’s needed is provided,” he told The Straits Times.
“He is also hands on. I’ve never seen a Sultan who will make time to take part in public recreational activities like cycling,” he added.
During his 50-year reign, Sultan Bolkiah has led Brunei to independence and transformed it into one of South-east Asia’s most developed nation with enviable standards of living, thanks to abundant oil and gas reserves. Bruneians enjoy free healthcare and education, and pay no taxes.
Mr Ahmad Anwar Rosly, 32, a marketing and event manager for a shopping mall, said the Sultan has advanced Islamic teachings such as the implementing of the sharia law and building more mosques without sacrificing the country’s progress.
“Most, if not all, of the graduates’ aim is to work for the government, but His Majesty encourages people to diversify which is why I felt encouraged to pursue other jobs in the private sector such as oil and gas and retail industry where I am now,” he said.
“His late father was known as the modern architect of Brunei, His Majesty is definitely continuing his late father’s legacy.”
The Sultan is an avid polo player, just like other members of the royal family. Two of his children, Prince Abdul Mateen, 26, and Princess Azemah Ni’matul, 33, had represented the country in equestrian polo events at the South-east Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in August.
The ruler of the 654-year monarchy also enjoys playing squash and badminton and is a qualified pilot.
Sultan Bolkiah was listed by Forbes in 1997 as the world’s richest man with US$38 billion (S$52 billion) wealth, and he reportedly owns a collection of cars and polo ponies.
The Sultan has 12 children, and his eldest son is Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah.
July 15, 1946: Born in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Aug 14, 1961: Became Crown Prince at the age of 15.
1966-67: Trained as an officer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom.
Oct 4, 1967: His late father Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien voluntarily abdicated.
Oct 5, 1967: Ascended the throne at the age of 21.
Aug 1, 1968: Coronated as Brunei’s 29th Sultan and held a royal procession around the capital.
1978: Led a mission to London to change status of Brunei to that of a sovereign state. The outcome was the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Brunei Darussalam and Great Britain.
Jan 7, 1979: Brunei Darussalam signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Great Britain.
Jan 1, 1984: Gained independence from the British and he became prime minister.
1984: Established formal diplomatic relations with several countries, including Singapore.
Sept 21, 1984: Brunei officially became the 159th country to join the United Nations.
Feb 12-14, 1990: Made his first state visit to Singapore where he called on then President Wee Kim Wee and and then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Sept, 1992: Brunei joined the Non Aligned Movements (NAM).
Oct 5, 1992: Celebrated his Silver Jubilee. Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who was then deputy prime minister of Singapore, was among the guests.
July 15, 1996: Celebrated his 50th birthday when he played polo with Prince Charles and flew in Michael Jackson to perform at a concert.
Aug 10, 1998: Installed his first son Al-Muhtadee Billah as Crown Prince.
Feb 27-Mar 1, 2003: Made his second state visit to Singapore, and called on then President SR Nathan.
April, 2014: Introduced sharia law which, among other rules, bans alcohol sales and sex between unmarried Muslims..
April 21 – 23, 2014: Made his third state visit to Singapore, and was hosted to lunch by DPM Teo Chee Hean.
Aug 2016: Singapore and Brunei celebrated the 40th anniversary of bilateral defence relations.
July 5-6, 2017: Made his fourth state visit to Singapore, during which both countries celebrated 50 years of the Currency Interchangeability Agreement (CIA). He and PM Lee Hsien Loong launched commemorative $50 notes. He was also hosted to a state banquet by former President Tony Tan Keng Yam.