Brunei’s all-powerful and fabulously wealthy sultan marked 50 years on the throne in lavish style on Thursday, travelling in a gilded chariot through the streets and holding a tradition-filled ceremony at his golden-domed palace.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers waving the country’s flag lined the streets and cheered as Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the world’s second-longest reigning monarch, passed by in a chariot pulled by dozens of his subjects.
Marching bands took part in the colourful procession as it made its way through the streets, the highlight of about two weeks of celebrations to mark the golden jubilee of one of the world’s richest men.
An absolute monarchy with strict Islamic laws, Brunei is one of the world’s wealthiest nations thanks to abundant oil and gas reserves, although analysts warn it faces serious challenges to diversify the economy as oil prices fall and its reserves dwindle.
Among the crowds was Melissa Ibrahim, an airline employee, who sang Hassanal’s praises.
“His majesty cares about the people, their welfare, education and health,” she said. “Everything is subsidised by the government, so for that we are very, very thankful.” Celebrations got under way earlier at the sultan’s sprawling palace, where an honour guard performed a 21-gun salute and the ruler and his wife sat on golden thrones for a royal audience.
The 71-year-old ascended to the throne of the Muslim country perched on the north of tropical Borneo island in October 1967, and comes from a royal family that has ruled the country for over 600 years.
His decades ruling Brunei have seen the country gain full independence from Britain and living standards soar to among the highest in the world.