An uneasy crown passes to prince

THE SULTAN of Brunei yesterday invested his eldest son as his successor in a glittering ceremony that was intended to underline the stability of the oil-rich but troubled monarchy.

Amid the boom of cannon and before a crowd of about 4,000 spectators gathered in the grounds of the royal palace, 24-year-old Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, dressed in gold tunic and crown, received an ancient sword in a golden sheath from his father before kissing his hand.

The ceremony lasted an hour-and-a-quarter and ended with the prince climbing into a chariot and being drawn through flag-waving crowds in the streets of the capital.

The spectacle illustrated the determination of the sultan, now 52, to ensure that his dynasty continues amid troubles caused by Asia's economic crisis, which have dented the enormous fortunes of the sultanate and exposed rifts between the sultan and his younger brother, Prince Jefri.

The prince was removed recently from influence in the Brunei Investment Agency, the body which handles the sultanate's vast overseas investments, after the Amedeo conglomerate he controlled was reported to have run up billions of dollars of debts.

Last week, the prince, whose playboy lifestyle has attracted both amused and hostile attention, accused religious conservatives of tightening their grip over the kingdom's affairs.

The prince yesterday congratulated his nephew on his proclamation ceremony from exile in the US, adding that "disturbing events" in Brunei made it impossible for him to attend the event in person.

The citizens of Brunei are unlikely to experience a momentous change of course if and when the crown prince finally ascends the throne.

The royal family are conventionally pious Muslims and the prince himself has accompanied his family on pilgrimage to Mecca.

But the family also maintain strong ties to the West, and to Britain in particular.

The Crown Prince attended Oxford and, like his fallen uncle, is a keen sportsman and snooker player. Next month he will confirm the royal family's continuing attachment to Britain when, along with his father, he welcomes the Queen on her forthcoming visit to the sultanate.

The potential challenge to the prince is more likely to come from social discontent than from Islamic militants.

Since the result of the elections held after independence from Britain in 1962 was annulled, the sultanate's 300,000 citizens have exchanged their political freedoms for a lavishly provided welfare state.

As time runs out for the oil and gas reserves that have sustained this expense, the question is whether such a delicate arrangement can survive the present sultan. Some estimate that Brunei's oil reserves will start to run out within 20 years. Even the one tame party that is allowed to operate in Brunei admits there is pressure for change.

The president of the Brunei Solidarity National Party (PPKB), Mohammed Hatta, told reporters at the ceremony that he hoped the crown prince would usher in reforms. "He will bring liberal changes towards a democratic society in line with the aspirations of the people," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there