BANGKOK – The Sultan of Brunei marked on Thursday 50 years on the throne with a massive procession where he traveled in a gilded chariot through the streets of the country’s capital of Bandar Seri Begawan.
Thousands of people came out on the streets to greet and cheer Hassanal Bolkiah, who was accompanied by his first wife Pengiran Anak Saleha.
The royal couple also held a royal audience at the Sultan’s sprawling palace that is spread over an area that is bigger than the Vatican City and boasts of around 1,800 rooms and 290 bathrooms.
On Friday, the couple will host a banquet for members of other royal families and leaders of neighboring countries.
Bolkiah, 71, is the world’s second-longest reigning monarch (only behind Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom) and the longest-reigning monarch of this small southeast Asian country, one of the world’s few absolute monarchies that adheres to strict Islamic laws, with vast energy reserves.
The Sultan, one of the world’s wealthiest men, with an estimated fortune of around $20 billion, is also the country’s prime minister, defense minister, finance minister and the head of the Islamic community.
He has been married three times, although he currently remains married only to his first wife, and of his 17 children, the crown prince is the 43-year-old Al-Muhtadee Billah, his third son from his first marriage.
Bolkiah, the 29th Sultan of Brunei, who is known for his luxurious and extravagant lifestyle, owns 5,000 sports cars, as well as a fleet of private planes and helicopters.
His family has ruled Brunei, with a population of around 400,000 and the fourth largest per capita income in the world ($76.567 per person), for 654 years.