Brunei - 50 years under emergency rule

This is a transcript of a radio interview conducted  and broadcasted by Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Radio Australia and was published on ABC Radio Australia in December 2012. You can link here to the website and listen to the podcast yourself or you can read the transcript below:

Brunei - 50 years under emergency rule

Updated 13 December 2012, 15:52 AEST

This December marks 50 years of emergency rule in Brunei, the small wealthy sultanate on the North Coast of Borneo.

This was at a time when fear about the spread of communism was palpable, prompting the Sultan to annul the election results and declare emergency rule.

But that was half a century ago, so why does the state of emergency still exist today?

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Geoffrey Gunn, Professor of International Relations, Nagasaki University in Japan

GUNN: Well simply that the rebellion is perceived in Brunei today as derhaka, a term meaning treachery against the Sultan. And for this and various other reasons the state of emergency has not been rescinded, and neither has Brunei revived the parliament that was promulgated according to the 1959 constitution. So simply Brunei looks back upon that rebellion as underscoring a threat to the stability of the nation.
COCHRANE: But that threat of course no longer exists 50 years on now. Is the tolerance of this state of emergency tied up in the public's view of the ruler?
GUNN: Well simply for various reasons there has been no challenge to the status quo in Brunei. Legitimacy of the Sultan of course stems from its windfall oil revenues which the Sultanate passes out to its subjects. So no challenge has really been mounted to the Sultan, and why should people do so? Basically they are middle class, they are satisfied with the status quo. So there's simply no push for democratic change in Brunei. It sounds like a contradiction, but it's a fact.
COCHRANE: So people are simply too comfortable to worry about politics?
GUNN: Pretty much so, I mean there are two token opposition parties but they have no seats in any institution so they're marginalised. People can vent their anxieties in letters to the editor or through rumour, and these days of course through internet, but that's about as far as any murmur of discontent goes.
COCHRANE: So if politics isn't a huge concern or at least further democratisation isn't much of a concern amongst the public, and they're fairly economically comfortable, what are some of the main issues that the nation of Brunei faces?
GUNN: Well for the Sultan himself protected by two battalions of Ghurkhas, I mean he's commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so he's pretty much neutralised any threat of say a coup d'etat on the one hand. But on the other hand radical Islam always poses a challenge to these kind of Islamic monarchic establishments. But on the other hand progressively the Sultanate has Islamised over the last 20 years as a way of neutralising any kind of Islamist challenge. Neither has the Arab Spring contagion really entered into the equation in Brunei either. And on the other hand Brunei is now comfortable within ASEAN, as an ASEAN member threats from neighbours has virtually disappeared. And looking ahead Brunei will chair the ASEAN summit from next year further giving it legitimacy within ASEAN and the region.
COCHRANE: As you mentioned though the source of the Sultan's wealth is the country's oil reserves and thus the stability that stems from that. How long is this going to last? How long will the oil last?
GUNN: Well that's a state secret, it's an oil company secret, but it's always been put around that 15 years more reserves remain. But as the technology for deeper sea exploration and development expands so probably the pool of reserves expand. So nobody really knows. Moreover Brunei Darussalam has reaped the benefits of fairly high oil prices in recent years, moreover it's locked into long-term contracts, 15 year contracts with its major markets and clients; Japan, Korea and now China. So it looks good but it is vulnerable, of course oil and gas is a finite reserve, so Brunei simply has to manage its sovereign wealth in clever ways. And that does pose a doubt into the medium term, yes.


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