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Country Profile : Brunei

Country profile: Brunei

Map of Brunei

A tiny country with a small population, Brunei was the only Malay state in 1963 to choose to remain a British dependency rather than join the Malaysian Federation.

It became independent in 1984 and, thanks to its large reserves of oil and gas, now has one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Its ruling royals, led by the head of state Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, possess a huge private fortune.


A country of dense forests and mangrove swamps whose people enjoy high subsidies and pay no taxes, Brunei is highly dependent on imports. Despite its immense wealth, most of the country outside the capital remains undeveloped and unexploited.

Sultan Omar Saifuddeen mosque, Brunei
Friday prayers in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan

While oil and gas exports account for the bulk of government revenues, reserves are dwindling and Brunei is attempting to diversify its economy. It markets itself as a financial centre and as a destination for upmarket and eco-tourism.

About two-thirds of the people of Brunei are ethnic Malays, and these benefit from positive discrimination. The Chinese comprise about 16% of the population. There are also Indians and indigenous groups, of whom the Murut and Dusuns are favoured over the Ibans.

Since 1962 the sultan has ruled by decree. In a rare move towards political reform an appointed parliament was revived in 2004. The constitution provides for an expanded house with up to 15 elected MPs. However, no date has been set for elections.

Brunei's financial fortunes have wavered. Shares and other assets were hit by the crash of the Asian financial markets in the late 1990s. In 1998 Prince Jefri's Amedeo conglomerate collapsed, leaving massive debts and precipitating a financial scandal.


  • Full name: Sultanate of Brunei
  • Population: 399,000 (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan
  • Area: 5,765 sq km (2,226 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Malay, English, Chinese
  • Major religions: Islam, Buddhism, Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 80 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Bruneian dollar = 100 cents
  • Main exports: Crude oil, liquefied natural gas, petroleum products
  • GNI per capita: US $26,930 (World Bank, 2007)
  • Internet domain: .bn
  • International dialling code: +673


Head of state: Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

Sultan of Brunei
Sultan Bolkiah: Ruling family has a large private fortune

Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world's longest-reigning monarchs, became sultan in October 1967 after his father, Sir Haji Omar Ali Saifuddin, abdicated. He was crowned in August 1968.

In 1991 he introduced a conservative ideology called Malay Muslim Monarchy, which presented the monarchy as the defender of the faith.

Apparently aimed at pre-empting calls for democratisation, it is said to have alienated Brunei's large Chinese and expatriate communities.

In September 2004 the sultan reopened Brunei's parliament, 20 years after it was suspended. Observers said it was a tentative step towards giving some political power to the country's citizens.

The sultan was born in 1946 and was educated in Malaysia and Britain. He has two wives and is one of the world's richest individuals.


Brunei's media are neither diverse nor free. The private press is either owned or controlled by the royal family, or exercises self-censorship on political and religious matters. Media rights body Reporters Without Borders says news outlets carry "virtually no criticism of the government".

A press law provides prison terms of up to three years for reporting "false news".

The only local broadcast media are operated by the government-controlled Radio Television Brunei. Foreign TV is available via cable. Access to the internet is said to be unrestricted.

The press



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