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Big shake-up for Brunei cabinet

BBC News - May 25, 2005

Jonathan Kent, Kuala Lumpur The Sultan of Brunei has sacked four members of his Cabinet in what has been hailed as the most sweeping change since the South East Asian nation gained independence in 1984.

Among those to lose their jobs was the country's education minister, whose moves to introduce a conservative Islamic curriculum in schools upset some Bruneians.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has been taking tentative steps towards reform, and these changes are likely to be seen as part of that process.

Observers say the reshuffle has introduced younger faces to the Cabinet and, for the first time, ministers with private sector experience. Another first is the appointment of an energy minister, responsible for the country's considerable oil reserves. They account for almost 90% of Brunei's GDP.

But the most telling move was the removal of the education minister of 20 years, Abdul Aziz.

He was replaced after pushing for the increased use of Jawi, an obscure Malay dialect favoured by local Islamic scholars, and for the expansion of religious education. That went down badly with many middle class parents who wanted more emphasis on science and technology.

The Sultan has also appointed the first non-Muslim to the Cabinet and named his elder son as senior minister in the prime minister's department a possible pointer to his eventual succession.

Sultan Hassanal was himself 21 when he took over from his father, who abdicated in 1967. Last September the Sultan revived the country's parliament which had been suspended 20 earlier.

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