The Earl and Countess of Wessex are in Brunei, representing The Queen, for celebrations to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Sultan of Brunei.
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah marks 50 years on the throne on 5th October. The spectacular celebrations were to include a glittering procession, a 21-gun salute and a ceremony at his vast, golden-domed palace.
Thursday’s festivities began with the Sultan and his wife inspecting a royal guard of honour which was followed by a gun salute.
Edward and Sophie – wearing Brunei golden jubilee medals – joined the procession in Bandar Seri Begawan, which saw the Sultan and Queen Saleha carried past huge crowds of well wishers in a chariot through the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. The Sultan and his Queen were pulled on a gold chariot by 50 of their subjects, with about 80,000 cheering subjects lining the route, while the British Royals followed behind in a car.
— Victoria Howard (@TheRoyalExpert) October 5, 2017
Marching bands and members of the armed forces and military also took part in the procession.
The 71-year-old Sultan ascended to the throne on 5th October 1967 and is the world’s second longest-reigning Monarch – behind Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned for over 65 years, and she became the world’s longest living reigning Monarch in October 2016, following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.
The Sultanate, located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1984 and is one of the world’s richest countries due to its vast oil and gas reserves. It has a population of about 400,000 and has been ruled by the same Royal Family for over 600 years.
The longstanding and special relationship between the two Royal Families, especially between the Sultan and The Queen is what makes the UK-Brunei relationship so unique.
— Rookie (@royalfocus1) October 4, 2017
The Brunei Royals held an audience at the Sultan’s palace, a vast complex of resplendent white buildings with golden domes and almost 1,800 rooms, which was attended by guests including members of the Royal Family and ministers.
Today, there will be a banquet attended by Southeast Asian leaders and Middle Eastern Royalty, at which Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex will also attend.
The couple spent the day exploring, however, including mangrove swamps from a boat.
Brunei is an absolute monarchy, with the Sultan as Head of State, with full executive authority holding the posts of Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Defence Minister; there is a parliament – but no elections have been held since 1962.
— Rookie (@royalfocus1) October 5, 2017
In October 2013, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced his intention to impose Sharia law on the country’s Muslims, which take up roughly two-thirds of the country’s population. This would be implemented in three phases, culminating in 2016, and making Brunei the first and only country in East Asia to introduce Sharia law into its penal code. The move drew criticism from the United Nations.
Despite some of its controversial policies the Sultan is widely revered by his subjects and seen as a father-figure to the nation.