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Cablegate: A Glimpse of Brunei Style Democracy

VZCZCXRO6051
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBD #0329/01 3060504
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 020504Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
TO RUEHCAA/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUEHZS/ASEAN COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN 000329

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MTS FORSYTH, AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV BX
SUBJECT: A GLIMPSE OF BRUNEI STYLE DEMOCRACY

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On October 28, DCM and Pol/Mil Assistant observed
the election for the Village Chief of Kampong Lumapas. Voters
approved by a vote of 226 to 20 the single candidate placed on the
ballot after official screening. GoB officials were disappointed at
the low turnout, but noted than many such elections have similar
turnouts, even on a contested ballot with two or three candidates.
One member of a Brunei political party alleged that village chief
elections were sham elections and that the favored candidate always
won. We saw a technically primitive, but reasonably secure voting
process that should be able to produce free and fair elections on a
small scale. Brunei would need to considerably upgrade its voting
system to accommodate elections for the Legislative Council.

-------------------
A VILLAGE ELECTION
-------------------

2. (U) About 300 residents gathered in Lumapas - a small village
across the river from Bandar Seri Begawan - to cast their votes for
the Village Chief of Lumapas Mukim 'A' in Brunei Muara district on
Sunday, October 28. DCM and Pol/Mil Assistant observed the festive
atmosphere at the assembly hall of a local school where villagers
gathered to gossip, ignore the speeches of the visiting dignataries,
cast their votes, and enjoy a mid-morning meal of rice, chicken
curry, and anchovy stew.

3. (U) Out of 1, 129 village residents, 533 Brunei citizens and
permanent residents above the age of 18 were eligible to vote but
not all registered for this election. Voters were required to
present their national identity cards to vote, and their names were
checked off on an alphabetical list of registered voters. Male and
female voters were segregated and sent to registration tables on
either side of the room. Registration was not allowed to take place
on the Election Day; only pre-registered villagers were able to
vote. The ballot papers were serialized, but there was no attempt
to link ballot numbers to voters' identities. Ballots were marked
in privacy booths and placed by the voters in padlocked, transparent
ballot boxes. Although we were unable to stay for the vote count,
we were informed that the ballot boxes would be opened in public
view and counted on the spot after the 9-11:30 AM voting time window
closed.

-----------
LOW TURNOUT
-----------

4. (SBU) Dato Paduka Haji Mohamed Yussop Bakar, District Officer
(the appointed senior administrative official in each of Brunei's
four districts) for Brunei Muara District, told us that he was
disappointed with the residents' low level of participation in any
elections. In his pre-voting speech to the voters, he stressed the
importance of residents' responsiblility to participate in the
election of the Village Chief and hoped that residents would be more
enthusiastic given the importance of the decision in electing a
Village Chief. Dato Yussop told us that low turnout has long been a
problem in many villages although he said that contested elections
tend to have slightly higher turnouts.

--------------------
AND THE WINNER IS...
--------------------

5. (SBU) Sixty-year old retired teacher Haji Yassin Hj Mohd Hassan
was the only candidate and secured 226 votes in his favor (20 voted
against him and 2 votes were disqualified). Haji Yassin told us
that he did not run a campaign to garner any of the villagers'
support as there was already a general consensus among the villagers
to nonminate him as a candidate for Lumapas Village Chief.
According to District Officer Dato Yussop, Hj Yassin underwent
security and political vetting and was interviewed for general
suitability for the position prior to the election.

-----------------------------------
ELIGIBILITY TO BECOME VILLAGE CHIEF
-----------------------------------

6. (U) Under Brunei regulations and conventional practice, vacancies
for Kampong (village) and Mukim (collection of villages) Chiefs are
advertised in the government-owned, Malay language newspaper 'Pelita
Brunei' two months prior to Election Day. Candidacy forms must be
signed by a nominator and seconded by two persons (citizens or
permanent residents only) and submitted to the Mukim and Kampong
Institution Section of the District Office. Eligible candidates
must be male Bruneian citizens between 30 to 60 years of age and
have completed at least form 3 (equivalent to eigth grade)
schooling. Candidates must have been residents of the village for
at least two years, have no involvement in any associations deemed a
threat to national security, nor have declared bankruptcy.
Candidates must posess good leadership skills, knowledge of Islam,
the community, and the customs & traditions practiced by the village

BANDAR SER 00000329 002 OF 002


residents. Civil servants and political party members must retire
from these positions if appointed as village chiefs. Private
businessmen may continue conducting their business under terms &
conditions set by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Chiefs are elected
for a term of five years which can be renewed without further
election at the pleasure of the Sultan until the chief reaches the
age of 65. Village chiefs monthly salary range is BND1,280 - 1,930
(USD860 - 1295).

7. (U) Solicitations for Mukim Chiefs are conducted in the same
manner as Kampong Chiefs, but prospective candidates must be Muslim
males between the ages of 40 and 60. Mukim chiefs are appointed by
the Head of State (the Sultan). If a candidate was previously a
Village Chief, he must have held that post for at least 5 years. The
salary scale for Mukim Chief is BND1,990 - BND2,620 (USD1372 -
USD1807).

-------
COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) The voting process we observed was rudimentary, but not/not
technically flawed and could, with some technical assistance, be
adequate to conduct free and fair elections on a larger scale. The
Ministry of Home Affairs maintains control of the process through
rigorous vetting of candidates for political suitability. One
political party member alleged that there have been instances where
the results of an election were adjusted by authorities to ensure
that a favored candidate won. While we cannot independently verify
this allegation, it is an indicator of the general disregard
citizens have for the limited taste of democracy currently available
in Brunei. The GoB will have to work hard to convince the public
that elections are meaningful if and when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah
fulfills his pledge to hold direct elections for a minority of the
seats on the Legislative Council.

FRIEDMAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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