Hassanal Bolkiah, GCB GCMG (full name: Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam; born 15 July 1946) is the 29th and current Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei. He is also the first and incumbent Prime Minister of Brunei. The eldest son of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien III and Raja Isteri (Queen) Pengiran Anak Damit, he succeeded to the throne as the Sultan of Brunei, following the abdication of his father on 4 October 1967.
The Sultan has been ranked among the wealthiest individuals in the world; Forbes estimated the Sultan’s total peak net worth at US$20 billion in 2008. Following the death of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016, the Sultan is the wealthiest monarch in the world.
The Sultan was born on 15 July 1946 in Brunei Town (now called Bandar Seri Begawan) as Pengiran Muda (Crown Prince) Hassanal Bolkiah. The Sultan received high school education at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur, after which he attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, graduating in 1967.
He became the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam on 5 October 1967, after his father abdicated. His coronation was held on 1 August 1968, and made him the Yang di-Pertuan (Head of State) of Brunei. Like his father, he has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, of which Brunei was a protectorate until 1984.
Under Brunei’s 1959 constitution, the Sultan is the head of state with full executive authority, including emergency powers since 1962. On 9 March 2006, the Sultan was reported to have amended Brunei’s constitution to make himself infallible under Bruneian law. Bolkiah, as Prime Minister, is also the head of government. In addition, he holds the portfolios both of Minister of Defense and Minister of Finance. As Minister of Defense he is therefore the Supreme Commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, as well as an Honorary General in the British and Indonesian armed forces and an Honorary Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Navy. He appointed himself as Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the Royal Brunei Police Force.
Bolkiah addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Brunei Darussalam’s admission to the United Nations in September 1984. In 1991, he introduced a conservative ideology to Brunei called Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay Islamic Monarchy, MIB), which presents the monarchy as the defender of the faith. He has recently favoured Brunei government democratisation and declared himself Prime Minister and President. In 2004, the Legislative Council, which had been dissolved since 1962, was reopened.
His designated successor is his eldest son, Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah.
The Sultan’s official residence is the Istana Nurul Iman, with 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and a floor area of 2,152,782 square feet (200,000 m2; 20 ha). The Istana also houses several offices of government, including that of the Office of the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan, the Office of the Grand Chamberlain, as well as the offices within the Prime Minister’s Department. Parts of the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Finance are also located at the palace. The Crown Prince, who is the Senior Minister, works from offices at the Istana. Hyatt Borneo Management Services and HM The Sultan’s flight maintain offices there.
The University of Brunei Darussalam and Sultan Sharif Ali Islamic University (UNISSA) were established. Technical and vocational institutions were also built, such as the Brunei Technological University (UTB), Sultan Saiful Rijal Technical College, and vocational schools.
The religious Institute Tahfiz Al-Quran Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah was established. Scholarships for study in the country and abroad were provided.
The Royal Brunei Armed Forces were expanded with the establishment of three major branches of the Royal Brunei Land Forces, Royal Brunei Navy and Royal Brunei Air Force.
Medicines and medical treatment are free of charge to children, policemen and members of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces in hospitals and government clinics, and subject to a small charge for others.
There is one doctor per 949 patients. The life expectancy of the people and the country’s population is 74.2 years for men and 77.3 years for women.
Other facilities offered include various National Housing Plan Scheme (RPN), Land Allocation Scheme, the additional monthly pension on the elderly, subsistence allowances for widows and people with disabilities.
Hassanal Bolkiah established the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation (YSHHB).
In January 2013, the Royal College of General Practitioners created the honour of ‘Companion of the College’ to mark its 60th anniversary. The Sultan became the first recipient of this award in recognition of the work he has done to promote healthcare in Brunei and abroad. An auditorium in the College’s headquarters at 30 Euston Square, London – where the Sultan was inaugurated – was also named in his honour.
Brunei Darussalam is a member of various international and regional organisations such as ASEAN, Commonwealth, the Organisation of the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Hassanal Bolkiah was chairman of Summit APEC Leaders in 2000 when Brunei Darussalam hosted the summit. Hassanal Bolkiah was also the chairman of ASEAN Summit in 2013 when Brunei Darussalam hosted the summit.
Hassanal Bolkiah attended various meetings of international organisations.
is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1984 as a member of the 6th. Hassanal Bolkiah presided over the meeting of the 7th ASEAN when Brunei hosted the meeting of ASEAN Heads of Government in 2001.
became a member of the United Nations (UN) on 21 September 1984, during the 39th session of the General Assembly.
has a long-standing relationship with the United Kingdom, and joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1984. As a contributor to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation, the country benefits from training in commerce, industry and human resource development.
joined the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1984.
has been a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) since it was established in 1989. Hassanal Bolkiah was the chairman of the APEC Leaders Meeting in 2000.
became a member of the National Organisation of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in September 1992.
Hassanal Bolkiah is Head of Religion, and Islam is the official religion of the country. Mosques, prayer halls and stations were built across the country. The Sultan decreed that Islamic celebrations such as Early Years Celebration Prophet’s birthday, Isra and Miraj and Nuzul Al Quran are to be celebrated on a large scale. He often attends mosques and surau throughout the country for the obligatory Friday prayers.
In 2014, Hassanal Bolkiah also advocated the adoption of Islamic sharia penalties, including that adultery is to be punished with death by stoning only when proven by the testimony of four trusted, impartial, and truthful witnesses in attendance.
Hassanal Bolkiah also banned public celebrations of Christmas in 2015, including wearing hats or clothes that resemble Santa Claus. The ban affects only local Muslims. Christians are still allowed to celebrate Christmas. In fact according to Bruneian Bishop Cornelius Sim, on 25 December 2015, there were around estimated 4,000 out of 18,000 Bruneian Catholics (mainly Chinese and expats living in the country) attending the mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While there was no absolute ban on celebrations, there was a ban affecting Christmas decorations in public places, especially shopping malls; the ban did not affect small stores or private residences including churches.
There have been national economic development plans; oil and gas remain the main source of national income. Steps are being made to establish a petrochemical industry.
In the Islamic banking sector, Brunei Islamic Trust Fund (TAIB) was established on 29 September 1991, while in 2006, the Islamic Bank of Brunei (IBB) and the Islamic Development Bank of Brunei (IDBB) consolidated into Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD) with total assets of US$5 billion.
The Sultan married his first cousin and first wife, Pengiran Anak Saleha or Princess Saleha, later became the Raja Isteri or Queen. His former second wife, Aisha Mariam (the former Pengiran Isteri), was a former flight attendant for the national carrier, Royal Brunei Airlines. He divorced her in 2003, stripping her of all her royal titles. In August 2005, her place was taken by a former Malaysian TV3 presenter, Azrinaz Mazhar Hakim, who is 33 years younger than the Sultan. They divorced in 2010, and as with Aisha Mariam, the Sultan stripped her of all titles, honours, and monthly allowance. The divorce was announced on Radio Television Brunei by the Grand Chamberlain.
Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah is the current Pengiran Muda Mahkota (“Crown Prince”) and the Sultan’s heir, as the eldest son of the Sultan and Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha. As of 2012, Hassanal Bolkiah has five sons and seven daughters with his three wives.
The Sultan received an honorary doctorate at the Moscow State University for International Relations (MGIMO), 2005. He has also been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Oxford, England, and an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the Chulalongkorn University of Thailand. In 2003, he received an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humanities and Culture from Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), Yogyakarta, Indonesia. On 27 January 2005, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the National University of Singapore. On 14 April 2011, he was conferred the Honorary Doctorate of Law by King’s College London. The scroll for the honorary doctorate was presented by Lord Duoro, the chairman of the Council of King’s College London. He was awarded with an honorary doctorate in philosophy and humanities on 21 April 2011 from Universitas Indonesia.
The Sultan holds an honorary commission in the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom as an Air Marshal. He is also an Honorary Admiral of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, a title given to him by Queen Elizabeth II when he took the salute at the passing out parade of the 2001 summer term at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, the Royal Navy’s officer-training school in the United Kingdom. He has an English residence at Binfield Manor in Berkshire.
In April 2008, he was made an honorary member of the Indonesian Satgas Atbara Special Operations Unit. He holds the rank of Honorary Colonel of Pakistan’s Special Service Group (SSG), awarded to him during his visit to the Pakistan Army’s SSG headquarters at Cherat. He possesses red beret and paratrooper wings of the Black Hawk paratroopers, presented to him by the Indian Army during his state visit to India.
In January 2013, the Royal College of General Practitioners inaugurated the Sultan as the first Companion of the College for services to healthcare in Brunei and abroad.
The Sultan is passionate about cars. The royal family always maintains a collection of over 100 cars and the palace has the underground garage to accommodate them. Apart from this he once owned one of the largest private car collections in the world with about 2500 cars which his brother Jefri Bolkiah bought for himself, the Sultan and other members of the royal family to entertain their car passion. The car collection and Prince Jefri’s other indulgences blew through billions and ultimately landed him in trouble and the royal family in financial crisis. The car collection was left abandoned; most of the non garaged cars were beyond saving, the rest were auctioned.
The Sultan’s involvement in sports includes playing polo, golf, and badminton. He also enjoys race car driving, piloting helicopters, and aircraft. On international trips, he pilots his own Boeing 747-8. He is also very fond of gold and has a Rolls-Royce coated with 24k gold.
He often enjoys fine cigars, and has a notable favourite, the Gurkha Centurian, that was commissioned specifically for him.
His primary residence, the 1,800-room palace Istana Nurul Iman, is considered the world’s largest private residence.