A wide-eyed 24-year-old with a passion for snooker and Bon Jovi was installed Monday as heir to one of the world's richest monarchies in a glittering ceremony.
Amid Islamic prayers and booming guns, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah passed on a jeweled Malay dagger to his eldest son, Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, making him rightful heir to the throne held by the family for more than 500 years.The prince, dressed in an ornate gold-embroidered jacket and wearing a gold crown, looked solemn throughout the hourlong ceremony before 4,000 guests. The huge palace hall, its walls painted gold, was packed with royal relatives, the "Who's Who" of Brunei society and foreign diplomats.
The sultan wore military dress and a sword at his belt. On either side were his two wives in green and pink sequined gowns reflecting the palace lights.
The only words spoken at the ceremony were from an imam who led a brief prayer and Prince Mohamad, the sultan's brother, who proclaimed his nephew Brunei's 30th ruler.
Prince Al-Muhtadee is the third child of the monarch; the two older daughters are ineligible for the throne because of their gender.
But the royal pomp and pageantry at the 1,788-room palace on the banks of the Brunei River mask a growing unease in the Southeast Asian kingdom, which has withstood liberal tides to remain one of the world's last absolute monarchies.
The elaborate ceremonies come at a time of economic troubles for the oil-soaked sultanate and during an embarrassing family feud brought on by the wayward financial dealings of the sultan's younger brother, Prince Jefri, who is now in self-imposed exile.
Prince Jefri was abruptly removed from the controlling positions of Brunei's flagship company, Amedeo, after a reported $16 billion loss.
The rift appears to be widening, as the sultan, according to officials, also plans to strip his brother of control over three large oil wells.
"Everything in Brunei is behind closed doors," said Abdul Latif Chuchu, a former chief of a political party who has been banned from politics for his anti-palace views. "We don't know what is going on."
Analysts say economic pains are forcing the royal family to stop expanding its fleet of Rolls-Royces and Mercedes, its squadron of private jets and even to quietly sell off some of its prize racehorses.