Myanmar elections

Superstition and rumours of black magic swirl around elections

Myanmar fortune teller Hnin Ohn Mar Yee with a tarot card at her booth in the Shwedagon Pagoda compound in Yangon.
Myanmar fortune teller Hnin Ohn Mar Yee with a tarot card at her booth in the Shwedagon Pagoda compound in Yangon.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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

Yesterday's vote 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 last Saturday, fortune teller Hnin Ohn Mar Yee snapped a tarot card down and declared veteran activist Aung San Suu Kyi 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 Agence France-Presse, referring to the Nobel Prize winner'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.

With no reliable opinion polls, speculation over the election results is as open to astrologers as it is to political analysts.

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

"One of my friends called me last night asking me 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 24-year-old Maung Phyo, 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 Ms Suu Kyi's political ambition, there are plenty of astrologers who say the stars are on her side.

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.

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 planete (An Eye On The World) in 2013.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2015, with the headline 'Superstition and rumours of black magic swirl around elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe