Brunei Darussalam is an absolute monarchy, ruled by the same family for more than 600 years. Although the government exercised its emergency authority less frequently than in the past, the threat of action cast a long shadow on public debate and political activity (emergency powers have been renewed every two years since the Sultan first invoked an article of the constitution, which allows assumption of such powers, in 1962). All government ministers and all but five of 29 legislative council members were appointed by the Sultan. Village-level governments were elected, but candidates were screened by the government and often only one candidate competed.
The U.S. government seeks to promote the development of a more accountable and transparent government institutional framework that ultimately allows popular participation in an open political process. To encourage popular participation in the political process, U.S. government officials share the benefits of the U.S. democratic system and political openness with Brunei government officials, military officers, private citizens, civil society representatives, NGOs, and student groups to look for ways to promote Brunei's move toward a more participatory government. This includes expansion of people-to-people exchanges and increasing the number of Bruneians visiting or studying in the United States.
A primary focus of U.S. diplomatic strategy is to encourage Brunei to progress on the path toward an effective and more representative legislative council, through advocacy for the principles of transparent governance, the direct popular election of some council members, strengthened independent political parties, and termination of the long-standing state of emergency.
To help foster development of a well-informed and involved civil society, the United States continues to promote freedom of expression, improve local journalism skills, and expand public debate through outreach and educational exchange programs. These programs also serve to widen the range and improve the quality of information about the United States available to Bruneians. U.S. officials also use these programs to introduce rule of law and human rights values consistent with international best practices to Bruneian professionals, public employees, and law enforcement officers.
The United States targets its exchange programs to support these priorities. Each year the U.S. Government provides funding to send from Brunei to the United States--one Fulbright scholar, two International Visitor Leadership Program participants, one Edward R. Murrow journalism fellow, and at least five Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies fellows. The United States also sends at least 25 students to the U.S.-supported International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok. The United States also works with the Ministry of Defense to increase the number of mid-level and senior-level military professionals attending training at the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School and other U.S. military institutions.
The embassy delivers extensive information about the United States to a broad spectrum of the Brunei public, making use of the Internet, with an increasing focus on younger audiences. U.S. officials regularly speak to local high schools, the Islamic College, and the Islamic Dakwah (proselytizing) Center. The embassy also shares speakers through digital video conferencing, frequently partnering with other U.S. embassies, including embassies in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
U.S. officials are working with the Ministry of Education to create partnering relationships for student and faculty exchanges between U.S. universities and the University of Brunei Darussalam in a broad range of subject areas. The embassy fosters formal and informal linkages between U.S. Islamic Studies programs and the newly opened Islamic University of Brunei, which is expected to attract Muslim students from throughout the region.
To create opportunities for current and future decision makers to have personal experience of the United States, the embassy is working successfully to increase the number of Bruneian students studying in the United States. This effort includes promoting the use of Brunei government scholarships at U.S. universities--the prestigious Ministry of Defense "Supreme Commander Scholarship" is now used for study in the United States--plus current efforts to increase availability of Ministry of Education scholarships for use in the United States.