Brunei Darussalam: HRH The Crown Prince Takes Centre Stage


AVM Horton

One of the main features of the second quarter of 2004 has been the increasing prominence of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince. Born at the Istana Darul Hana (once the main palace in the sultanate) on Sunday 17 February 1974, Pengiran Muda Mahkota Al-Muhtadee Billah is the eldest son (but third child) of His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha.

In April and early May 2004, a series of installations into traditional offices, such as ceteria (high-ranking nobles), pehin menteri (highest-ranking non-nobles), and menteri darat (comparatively low-level land chiefs), hinted that a major royal event was on the way. On Saturday 15 May, it was duly announced that the Crown Prince would marry Dayangku Sarah binti Pengiran Salleh Abdul Rahaman in September. News of the engagement excited intense interest in the sultanate: despite an extra print run, the Sunday Borneo Bulletin sold out completely and many potential customers were left empty-handed.

The prospective bride, born in Bandar Seri Begawan on 9 April 1987, turns out to be a seventeen-year-old sixth-former at the Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Science College, whose alumni include the crown prince himself: 'She has earned commendations from her teachers not only for her academic achievements but also for her involvement in sports and charity activities' (BBSO 16.5.2004). Although a person styled 'dayangku' might herself ultimately be of noble (perhaps even royal) descent (Brown 1970:171), this marriage appears to represent an infusion of fresh blood into the core royal family; HM the Sultan and HM the Raja Isteri, for example, are cousins, both directly descended from Sultan Hashim (d. 1906). The age gap with the thirty-year-old prince would be a worry, except that the palace is sure to be far too sensible to allow another 'Charles and Diana' melodrama to develop.

The Crown Prince's education was a mixture of private tuition at the palace, followed by attendance at local schools, rounded off by higher education at the Oxford Islamic Education Centre and Magdalen College. He was awarded a 'Diploma' at a Special (Magdalen College) Convocation held at Bandar Seri Begawan on 3 August 1998. In recent years, whilst preparing to become the future leader of the country, the prince has been seconded to various ministries and to a leading private sector company in order to gain 'the widest possible exposure to the country's workings' (BBO W.19.5.2004). His duties since 16 September 1998 have included the Pro-Chancellorship of NBD's national university. As a sportsman he is believed to be proficient at snooker and is Chairman of DPMM [Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota] Football Club, originally a high school team, but which currently participates in the principal domestic league. Places and institutions named after His Royal Highness include a mosque, a college, a school of religion, and a hospital. There is also HRH the Crown Prince's Fund for Orphans, launched on 25 August 1998 (although not originally named as such).

Installed as Crown Prince in that same month of August 1998, His Royal Highness has served as 'Deputy Sultan' on several occasions whilst His Majesty travelled overseas. The first instance known to the present writer came in late September 1999; other occurrences, usually for a few days each time, followed in July 2000, September 2000, October 2000, September 2001, September 2002, October 2002, December 2002, January 2003, and October 2003. Given misinformation on the matter provided by a certain prestigious publication, it is worth while to point out that the Deputy Sultanship is not a permanent position; on the contrary, the office is resurrected from time to time as need arises and has been filled by persons other than the Crown Prince, such as His Majesty's younger brothers, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah (in, for example, June 2000, March 2001, January 2002, and June 2004) and HRH Prince Sufri Bolkiah (in November and December 1999).

Made a general of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces by HM the Sultan on Thursday 25 March 2004, the Crown Prince delivered a sabda (address) at the passing out parade for the latest batch of recruits on Friday 2 April 2004. His Royal Highness stressed that all military personnel 'should understand their roles and responsibilities in upholding the prosperity and strengthening the sovereignty of the country, nation and religion, as well as protecting the security and harmony of the rakyat [general public]' (GBOW ON Sa.3.4.3004). On Tuesday 4 May 2004, HRH visited the Royal Brunei Land Forces (Berakas and Tutong Camps) and the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Training Centre. He emphasised the importance, for example, of ensuring career development. His Royal Highness was given a series of briefings, usually on the 'organisational structure, functions, roles and achievements' of whichever unit he was visiting. It was hoped that the royal visit would 'act as an encouragement for government servants, including the army, to discharge their duties and responsibilities with more commitment, dedication and efficiency' (BBO W.5.5.2004; GBOW ON W.5.5.2004). On Monday 10 May, His Royal Highness turned his attention to the Royal Brunei Air Force and the Royal Brunei Navy. Among other things, His Royal Highness expressed concerns about aircraft maintenance and plans for modernising the air force (BBO Tu.11.5.2004; GBOW ON Tu.11.5.2004).

His Majesty is plainly satisfied with the military leadership qualities evinced by the new jeneral. On 31 May, after little more than a month of generalship, His Royal Highness was presented with the DPKT (Darjah Paduka Keberanian Laila Terbilang Yang Amat Gemilang, Darjah Pertama). This is the sultanate's highest military honour (approximately equivalent to a British knighthood) and carries the title 'Dato Paduka Seri'.

It might be remembered, finally, that co-regnant monarchs are a feature of Brunei's history. Indeed, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah himself reigned together with Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin III between 1967 and 1986. Although there is not the slightest suggestion so far that His Majesty intends to follow his father's example, the possibility of abdication (no matter how remote) might be borne in mind. Factors militating against such an abdication would be (1) that there were particular historical circumstances in 1967 which are not replicated at the present time; (2) His Majesty's own experiences (reportedly not always happy) as a joint monarch; and (3) the comparative inexperience of the Crown Prince. On the other hand abdications usually come with very little advance warning.

WATCHPOINT: The royal wedding will be a focal point in September as will be the more active public role the Crown Prince is expected to play in the future.


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