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Star-gazers sway Sri Lanka election

world Updated: Jan 25, 2010 11:14 IST

AFP
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While the end of Sri Lanka's 37-year civil war has shaped this Tuesday's presidential election, celestial alignments and astrologers have exerted huge influence on the contest behind the scenes.

The decision to call the snap poll, the exact date of voting and the emergence of opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka can all be traced to the star-gazers who hold enormous sway in political circles.

Their forecasts are seen as more reliable than opinion polls in a country where many politicians have personal astrologers and births and weddings are seen as guided by planetary positions.

Even the national parliament inaugurates its sessions at astrologically favourable times and in one case a ruling president used air force helicopters to sprinkle blessed soil over key cities on the basis of a seer's advice.

"I have not come across a single political family which did not consult astrologers," said Nanda Godage, a former foreign secretary and a political commentator. "It is insecurity that makes them believe in astrology."

President Mahinda Rajapakse is standing against his former army chief and close confidant Fonseka with whom he crushed the country's Tamil Tiger rebels last year, ending their 37-year battle for a Tamil homeland.

But the victory led to tensions after a Buddhist monk -- and respected astrologer -- predicted that Fonseka was going through a "raaja yoga", or a sign of "great things" usually seen in the birth chart of a statesman.

A source close to the ruling party said the government feared that Fonseka, who was also regarded as a national hero after the war, could pull off a coup given his powerful planetary position.

"It is no secret that the government was rattled after seeing General Fonseka's horoscope," a ruling party official said on condition of anonymity.

Fonseka eventually quit as head of the armed forces in November and entered politics, accusing the government of suspecting him of a mutiny and sidelining him.

Rajapakse also went against the advice of some of his closest aides in deciding to call the election only four years into his six-year term.

Instead, he relied on several astrological predictions, says a senior official who declined to be named, choosing January 26 as the most auspicious date for a vote and following guidance on when to hand in his nomination papers.

The power of star-gazers was underscored in June when police arrested prominent astrologist Chandrasiri Bandara for predicting that the president faced a bleak period at a time when the administration appeared to be at the peak of its popularity.

Bandara's forecast came after the Tiger leadership was wiped out in May after nearly four decades of fighting that claimed between 80,000 and 100,000 lives, according to UN figures.

Bandara told AFP that Sri Lanka could still see unrest and political and economic turmoil until August 2012. He says the stars favour a Rajapakse win which the opposition has already said it will not accept.

"The planetary position from September (2009) to August 2012 is very bad for Sri Lanka," Bandara said. "I clearly see a period of turmoil. During this time President Rajapakse will be the head of state."

On Sunday, the opposition warned that the ruling regime was preparing a state-backed coup to keep Rajapakse in power if he loses in Tuesday's contest.

As for the final winner, other astrologers have backed both sides.

The mass-circulation Sunday Lankadeepa newspaper carried two forecasts by its soothsayers -- one predicting the president's re-election and the other firmly foretelling Fonseka's victory.

"The current planetary position is similar to what we saw in 1994 when there was a change of government," said astrologer KAU Sarathchandra who insists that Fonseka will win.

But his peer JAS Jayakody disagreed. He said the auspicious time at which Rajapakse presented his nomination papers favoured victory for him and not Fonseka.

"That time is very inauspicious for Fonseka and that is why he will lose," Jayakody wrote.

A weekly which wrongly predicted the winner at the December 2001 parliamentary election failed to foretell its own future -- enraged readers destroyed the paper and forced its closure.

Former president Ranasinghe Premadasa, of soil-sprilking fame, tried to use psychics to ward off an impeachment against him in 1991. He was then assassinated without warning in a suicide bombing in May 1993.

Even the Sri Lankan military is known to have launched offensives against Tamil Tigers at auspicious times decided by astrologers rather than military strategists.