Sultan Bolkiah began taking cautious steps toward democratic reform in Sept. 2004, when he reinstated Parliament for the first time since Brunei gained independence in 1984. He was widely praised in May 2005 when he fired four members of his cabinet, including the education minister, whose plan to expand religious education angered many parents.
In Oct. 2013, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced plans to impose sharia law on Muslims, who make up two-thirds of the country's 400,000 inhabitants. Death by stoning for adulterers and gay sex and the amputation of limbs for theft were two examples of punishments that could be meted out at the discretion of the country's judges. Non-Muslims would also be subjected to some of the laws. His decree was met with outrage by human-rights activists. The first phase of the law was put into place in May 2014. Two other phases will follow over two years.