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Sultan of Brunei becomes longest-serving monarch after queen’s death

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Brunei’s sultan Hassanal Bolkiah became the world’s longest-serving monarch yesterday with the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Bolkiah, who ascended to the throne in 1967, reigns for 54 years and 339 days (as of Friday) – more than four years longer than Margrethe II of Denmark, now the second-longest reigning monarch.

Before her death, Her Majesty was by far the longest serving monarch in the world, marking the 70th anniversary of her coronation earlier this year.

But while The Queen – who took the throne in 1952 in the aftermath of the Second World War at just 25 years old – has ensured that she has kept her distance from politics in the United Kingdom, the opposite can be said of Bolkiah in his home country.

Hassanal Bolkiah ibni Omar Ali Saifuddien III, 76, is not only the sultan and absolute monarch of the country, but also the prime minister of Brunei since the country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1984.

His reign is also embroiled in controversy. He has been criticized for the human rights situation in his country and questions have been raised about business transactions.

Despite this, Bolkiah appears to have had a close relationship with The Queen. Like his father before him, he was knighted by Her Majesty, and the pair met during their reign – both in London and Bandar Seri Begawan.

Brunei’s Sultan Darussalam Hassanal Bolkiah (pictured) became the world’s longest-serving monarch yesterday with the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II

Unlike the head of state of the United Kingdom, Bolkiah has absolute power in Brunei. Under the 1959 constitution, the head has full executive powers, including emergency powers.

In 2006, he is said to have amended the country’s constitution to make himself infallible against the law.

As Prime Minister, he is also Head of Government – and currently holds the positions of Minister of Defence, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance. He also controls the country’s police.

To top it all off, he is also head of religion, and Islam is the country’s official religion. In 2014, he advocated the introduction of Islamic Sharia sentences, including death by stoning, limb cutting and flogging for some crimes.

Such crimes include abortions, adultery and same-sex sexual acts.

His push in 2014 set off alarm bells among human rights lawyers and celebrities — including George Clooney and Elton John — calling for the boycott of hotels associated with the sultan, particularly the Dorchester Collection which has hotels in the US and Europe.

Educational institutions with connections to the sultan, such as Oxford and King’s College London, were called upon to strip him of his honorary degrees.

As prime minister, the sultan has led the way in anti-LGBT legislation. From April 2019, homosexuality and adultery are punishable by death by stoning.

The rule banned gay sex, which had to be witnessed independently to secure a conviction.

At the time, Bolkiah said the law was part of a push for “stronger” Islamic teachings in his small Australasian nation, located on the island of Borneo.

Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II and Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, attend a banquet, during the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh to Brunei, at The Istana Nurul Iman, in Brunei on September 18 , 1998 in Brunei

Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II and Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, attend a banquet, during the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh to Brunei, at The Istana Nurul Iman, in Brunei on September 18 , 1998 in Brunei

Top five longest serving monarchs in the world

On Thursday, Brunei’s sultan Darussalam Hassanal Bolkiah became the world’s longest-serving monarch. Here’s the top five:

1. Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei

  • Joined: October 5, 1967
  • Years reigned: 54 years, 339 days
  • Age: 76

2. Margrethe II, Denmark

  • Joined: January 14, 1972
  • Years reigned: 50 years, 238 days
  • Age: 82

3. Sultan bin Mohamed Al-Qassimi III, Sharjah (United Arab Emirates)

  • Joined: January 25, 1972
  • Years reigned: 50 years, 227 days
  • Age: 83

4. Carl XVI Gustaf, Sweden

  • Joined: September 15, 1973
  • Years reigned: 48 years, 359 days
  • Age: 76

5. Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, Fujairah (United Arab Emirates)

  • Joined: September 18, 1974
  • Years reigned: 47 years, 356 days
  • Age: 73 years

But after international outcry, Bolkiah ruled that a moratorium on the death penalty in Brunei should be extended to the new law.

It means that although the punishment for gay sex is still officially death by stoning, the sultan has agreed not to use it. Brunei has not staged a public execution since 1957.

Human rights issues in the country are not the only controversies the sultan has faced during his reign.

In 1997, his younger brother Jefri Bolkiah, Prince of Brunei, was charged by a woman who claimed she was being held as a “virtual prisoner”, drugged and sexually assaulted.

Hassanal also had open disagreements with Jefri over business dealings, when in July 1998 a network of companies and investment vehicles he owned called “Amedeo” collapsed under a $10 billion debt.

The prince was accused of embezzling state funds and after years of legal battles – including in Britain – he will be arrested if he ever sets foot in the UK.

Thanks to Brunei’s oil reserves, Bolkiah and the royal family are known for being extremely wealthy. When the country gained independence in 1984, it had one of the highest per capita incomes – nearly $50,000 a year.

In 2008, he was believed to be worth about $20 billion, and he has often displayed his exorbitant wealth. He reportedly bought his own Boeing 747 plane for $400 million, which is adorned with luxuries such as a gold sink.

He also owns a fleet of 7,000 luxury cars — including 600 Rolls Royce cars — and reportedly spends $20,000 on a single haircut.

Prince Jefri is said to have bought the collection – worth billions of dollars – for himself, putting the royal family in trouble.

The sultan sued Jefri for his expenses.

Queen Elizabeth II meets with the Sultan of Brunei during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on December 14, 2017 in London

Queen Elizabeth II meets with the Sultan of Brunei during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on December 14, 2017 in London

As for his personal life, Bolkiah was born on July 15, 1946. He attended high school in Juala Lumbar and later attended Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, graduating in 1967.

His father Omar Ali Saifuddien III abdicated in 1967, after which Bolkiah acceded on October 5 of that year.

His first wife is also his first cousin – Princess Pengiran Anak Saleha, who later became the Raja Isteri (meaning Queen).

He took a second wife – a former flight attendant for the national airline Royal Brunei Airlines – but he divorced her in 2003, stripping her of all royal titles.

Her place as second wife was taken in 2005 by a former Malaysian television host, Azrinaz Mazhar Hakim, who is 33 years younger than the sultan. They divorced in 2010 and he also stripped her of all titles.

In October 2020, the party-loving Prince Azim – the Sultan’s sixth child and fourth in line to the throne – died in the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan.

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