Brunei: the most loved repressive regime in the world?
Sanne van Oosten
Visiting Brunei was very interesting to us. Especially from the point of view of a political scientist. Brunei has free education, practically free medical care, free museums and subsidized fuel. And no…. income tax! All thanks to good ole black gold: oil. 90% of export revenue is thanks to oil and this also makes for a nice and fat piggy bank for the government, or should I say Sultanate, of Brunei.
The government of Brunei is much loved. Which was quite a difference from what we noticed when we were in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The people we spoke to are generally positive about their government and agree with their policies. And why wouldn’t they be? They receive so many benefits from their government and the Bruneian people are quite affluent. No worries?
I would be worried as I would call the Bruneian government quite repressive. For instance, you are not allowed to organize or visit concerts at which the audience stands. If the audience can sit it is ok, but if they have to stand, then it is not allowed. Too bad for fans of festivals, you have to go to Malaysia if you want that. However, parades to celebrate independence and honor the sultan are exempt from such regulations.
Also, house parties and public gatherings are not allowed to last until any later than 11 PM.
Being caught littering will cost you the equivalent of 500 USD. If you are caught littering for the second time, shame on you, you are fined with the equivalent of 1500 USD and a possible three month imprisonment, as many signs throughout the city will remind you.
Most notably, however, no alcohol is allowed to be sold anywhere within the Sultanate of Brunei.
Still the people are quite positive about their government. This could be due to the democratic nature of these seemingly strict policies. Don’t get me wrong, Brunei is not a democracy. Nevertheless, these policies that I mentioned above could still be in general agreement with public opinion. This isn’t to say that all people agree with such policies, proven by the fact that Malaysian towns bordering Brunei are often visited by Bruneians in search of relative freedoms.
However, I want to propose another explanation, or actually a hypothesis that requires further research to prove right or wrong. Couldn’t it also be possible that since the government is in the position to give so much to the people of Brunei, they can get away with strict rules like this? People who live in a repressive regime will accept this when they see the benefits of living in that country, the affluence, the government subsidies and the relative peace they have in Brunei. Especially when the benefits are so much better than in the surrounding countries?
This way such policies could be instated without the people being severely skeptical about the government and forcing any kind of resignation through a popular uprising? Similarly, some contend that the uprisings in Egypt in January of 2011 had more to do with severe youth unemployment than with loathing towards the Mubarak regime. Likewise, the French Revolution ultimately was fueled by rising bread prices. However, these are examples of why revolutions did commence and not theories of why revolutions did and do not commence. Too bad I have graduated as a political scientist and am more of a sociologist now, I think this would have been a great hypothesis for a thesis.