More than 200 journalists are convening in oil-rich Brunei to cover the Golden Jubilee celebration of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s accession to the throne, which is being held on Thursday.
Installed as the crown prince in 1961 at the age of 15, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah was proclaimed as the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam following the voluntary abdication of his late father. This year marks the 50th anniversary or Golden Jubilee of his accession to the throne in 1967 at the age of 21.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 71, is now the world’s second-longest reigning monarch, and was listed by Forbes in 1997 as the world’s richest man with US$38 billion wealth.
The month-long celebration of the golden jubilee, which includes the opening of Brunei’s first cable-stayed bridge, the unveiling of a major new urban park and a state banquet at the gold-domed palace on Friday, is being attended by regional leaders as well as British and Middle Eastern royalty.
According to Brunei’s Information Department at the Prime Minister’s Office, besides local media, some 70 foreign media representatives have registered to cover the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah’s Accession to the Throne, including AFP, Reuters and media from some Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
China’s state new agency Xinhua is also invited to cover the whole celebration throughout October.
The Brunei government has set up a large media center located at the center of Bandar Seri Begawan to help facilitate their works and to better accommodate the local and foreign media covering the historic event, report local media.
The tiny southeast Asian nation, a former British protectorate of about 400,000 people, relies heavily on oil and gas exports for its wealth.
The sultan is said to be hugely popular. His rule has seen Brunei gain full independence from Britain in 1984 and living standards soar to among the highest in Asia. Bruneians enjoy free healthcare and education, and pay no taxes. It is now in the top five most competitive economies in the Asean region behind Singapore (three), Malaysia (23), Thailand (32) and Indonesia (36); followed by Vietnam (55), the Philippines (56), Cambodia (94) and Laos (98).
On September 27 the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018, which saw Brunei Darussalam jump 12 places from last year, ranking 46 out of 137 economies worldwide with a total of 4.5 out of seven.
However, as global energy prices tumbled over the past three years, government revenue nosedived by 70 per cent. Brunei is the only Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) country to have seen a recession for three straight years.
The price collapse prompted Brunei to embrace Chinese investment, with Beijing pumping billions into key infrastructure projects.
In return, the sultanate has remained largely silent on Beijing’s vast territorial stake in the South China Sea, which overlaps Brunei’s own claims in the disputed waters.