Political activity is muted in Brunei, as there is no real drive for it in the "Shellfare state" (referring to Shell oil) with its wide range of welfare benefits. There are no elections. The Brunei National Democratic Party (BNDP), formed in 1966, was deregistered in early 1988 because of inactivity. In May 1985, the sultan had agreed to the formation of the BNDP, but at the same time prohibited all government employees (about 40% of the country's work force) from joining, thus depriving the party of a potential source of support. The members of BNDP were mainly Brunei Malay businessmen and young professionals, and their political agenda was to gain government support for Brunei Malay commercial interests. The new party quickly split into two factions in October 1985, with one of the resulting parties proposing radical changes; not surprisingly, it was squelched by the government. The BNDP was finally dissolved by the authorities early in 1988 after it had openly demanded the resignation of the sultan as the head of government, the lifting of the 26-year-old state of emergency, and democratic elections. As of 2003, the only legal political party is an offshoot of the BNDP, the Brunei Solidarity National Party (PPKB).
Hassanal Bolkiah favors maintaining the status quo and opposes any rapid development which might bring about social and economic change. To this end, Hassanal Bolkiah places great emphasis on Islamic values and strongly promotes Islam to keep his Brunei Malay power base stable. Malays enjoy preferential treatment and numerous benefits, while 90% of the ethnic Chinese inhabitants have been classified as "non-citizens," thus ceasing to qualify for many state benefits.