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Southeast Asian Affairs 2006 BRUNEI DARUSSALAM Consolidating the Polity Pushpa Thambipillai The year 2005 was another crucial year for Brunei Darussalam, setting in motion its policy directions for the next decade or so. In fact, it was a strengthening of the strategies introduced the previous year. Consolidation and reform were the key targets of the government as it gained confidence and momentum in forging ahead with political and economic development. The society, in the mean time, took the opportunity to participate in public affairs as signs of openness and transparency increased. Politics and Governance The major event of the previous year had been the reconvening of the Legislative Council after an absence of over 20 years as it had been suspended since independence in 1984. One of the main tasks of that assembly, composed of 21 appointed members, was to discuss and pass various amendments to the 1959 Constitution. A high-level committee had been established a few years earlier to review the constitution and related legal matters. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah as Head of State, signed the Proclamation of Brunei's Constitution (Amendments) on 29 September 2004 during the sitting ofthe legislature. While the constitution reinforced Brunei as a Malay Islamic Monarchy, the legislative process was given prominence as a means for the people to take part in the development of the state, even though the numbers of those participating were limited. It was projected as an official forum to voice opinions and raise issues. Some of the discussions in the Assembly supported that notion. It was also announced that the legislature would be enlarged to 45 members, with provisions for a maximum of Pushpa Thambipillai teaches in the Department ofPublic Policy and Administration, Faculty of Business, Economics and Policy Studies, University of Brunei Darussalam. 58Pushpa Thambipillai 15 representatives to be elected from the four districts of Brunei-Muara, Tutong, Bêlait, and Temburong. Contrary to the announcement made the previous year, the legislature did not convene in 2005. By decree, the previous Legislative Council was dissolved as of 1 September and a new one was constituted to take effect as of 2 September.1 The new body consists of 30 members: 14 ex-officio (it is essentially the newly appointed cabinet), three titled persons, seven individuals of distinction, and six district representatives, who had earlier been elected as village heads (ketua kampong) or subdistrict heads (penghulu) by their constituents. Prior to the announcement, earlier in the year, work on an elaborate Legislative Council building costing about B$62 million had begun. It is scheduled for completion in 2007. However, there is no indication when the current assembly will meet or when it will be increased to 45; the issue of direct elections has also not been clarified. It is probable that the elected 15 might constitute district representatives. Anyway, there have been no outward signs of preparations that the infrastructure for holding elections to the assembly is under way. In a bid to strengthen the government machinery and focus on issues of stability and development, the Sultan announced a cabinet reshuffle in May 2005.2 It saw the retirement of some of the senior ministers (notably the Minister of Home Affairs, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, and the Minister of Education) and the inclusion of some new appointees. There had been no major reshuffle in the past 17 years (except for the replacement of three ministers for various reasons), and thus the action was seen as significant, though the announcement came unexpectedly. The Sultan, who is head of state and government, heads the cabinet of 14, and retains his positions as prime minister, defence minister, and finance minister. A major restructuring of the cabinet was the addition of Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince, as senior minister in the Prime Minister's Office. Two ministers who retained their portfolios were the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Religious Affairs. Some of the other ministers were reshuffled, promoted from deputy to full minister or appointed from the ranks of the senior permanent secretaries. A retired major-general (who had headed the Brunei Economic Development Board, or BEDB) was a newcomer to the...


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