Myanmar mystics read the runes on historic election

From Tarot cards to black magic, Myanmar's most competitive elections in decades are suffused with a superstition inherited from years under secretive generals whose reliance on the whispered predictions of astrologers was legendary.

Sunday's vote, pitting Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition against the country's military elites for the first time in a quarter of a century, may be an earthly matter of ballots in boxes, but in Myanmar seeking the counsel of soothsayers is commonplace.

In a modest booth on the stairwell of the revered golden Shwedagon Pagoda on Saturday, fortune teller HninOhn Mar Yee snapped a Tarot card down and declared the veteran activist was in with a good chance.

"This card shows that the winner will be the one that people choose to become their president. So think about it, people will choose who? Of course the NLD," she told AFP, referring to Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

Another card she flipped was a harbinger of "violence, injustice", but she swiftly found a more reassuring one.

"The new government will handle it perfectly," she said confidently.

Sunday's vote is expected to transform the NLD into the biggest party in parliament if polling is fair, but with no reliable opinion polls, speculation over the results is as open to astrologers as it is to political analysts.

Even the date of the poll itself is seen as a result of numerology, while rumblings of mystical goings on during this election seethe on social media and in daily conversation.

"One of my friends called me last night asking to stay at home in the coming days because he heard that a Buddha statue was weeping. It can mean bad luck for people," said MaungPhyo, 24, on the streets of northern Yangon, dismissing the portent.

Rumours are rife of "yadaya" -- black magic -- being deployed to unsettle the NLD and its leader with mysterious parcels of food left beneath NLD campaign posters.

But for all of those resorting to spiritual tricks in a bid to derail her political ambition, there are plenty of astrologers who say the stars are on her side.

-- The Lady vs The Lion --Myanmar's fortune tellers are thought to be behind several unexplained occurrences in the country, from the abrupt decision by the former junta to relocate the capital in 2005, to bizarre episodes when the generals appeared wearing women's longyi -- a sarong-like skirt.

Reliance on astrologers dates back hundreds of years -- Myanmar's former kings regularly consulted their fortune tellers and even now most ordinary people have an astrological chart drawn up at birth. 

Ne Win, the strongman who ruled Myanmar for around three decades, was notorious for his use of mystics.

In the late 1980s the military leader caused economic chaos when he introduced notes in the local kyat currency of 45 and 90, because the numbers added up to his lucky number nine.

Even current President Thein Sein has indicated his openness to consulting soothsayers.

"Sometimes they give me advice on how the situation of the country could be affected from the astrological point of view. I willingly take this advice into account," he told French documentary "Un oeil sur la planète" (An Eye on the World) in 2013.

Thein Sein's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, with its emblem of a stately lion, is the main obstacle to Suu Kyi's hopes of electoral victory.

Suu Kyi, barred from the top political job by the military-drafted constitution, has said she will rule "above the president" if her party forms a government.

Leading popular astrologer San Zar Ni Bo told AFP that the November 8 timing of the election, far from giving astrological support to the ruling party, would actually favour a woman.

"The tarot card number eight shows a beautiful woman shutting the lion's mouth," said the fortune-teller, whose predictions have often favoured "The Lady" as Suu Kyi is known in Myanmar.


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