Star power: Presidential candidates vie for astrological edge

Thursday, 8 January 2015 00:40 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Presidential campaigns tout horoscopes as selling point for voters
Asian Wall Street Journal: Television cameras rolled as a panel of experts seated behind a thicket of microphones sombrely held forth at an Opposition news conference in the lead-up to Sri Lanka’s closely-fought presidential elections. The subject: Astrology. Maithripala Sirisena, the man challenging President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the political leadership of this Indian Ocean island nation, “has the most powerful horoscope, and nothing will stop him from winning,” declared astrologer Gamini Bulathsinghala. The President, he said, “is fated to lose.” Presidential astrologers beg to differ: They insist that Rajapaksa’s victory is written in the stars. Sri Lankans take their astrology very seriously, and candidates’ star power is hotly contested. For many Sri Lankans, detailed horoscopes play a key role in major life decisions from whom to marry to whether to change jobs. Star alignments are widely viewed as helping shape the destiny of the nation and its rulers. “Astrology is something that is intrinsically linked with Sri Lankan society,” said Asoka Abeygunawardena, an Opposition campaign coordinator. He said voters aren’t likely to cast their ballots based on the stars alone, but they can help nudge a decision one way or another. Voters “will weigh out the pros and cons of a situation from all angles and then make their choice,” Abeygunawardena said. “It is possible for astrology to provide an incentive to lean one way, so it can be used as a form of motivation. That is how we view it.” Today’s vote is a big one in Sri Lanka’s post-election political life and the race is widely viewed as too close to call. At stake is whether the country will stick with G government revolving around a strong executive presidency or shift to a more Parliamentary model with a prime minister in charge. Rajapaksa, who led Sri Lanka to victory over a bloody and long-running separatist insurgency in 2009, has moved to strengthen the presidency and abolished term limits opening the way for him to re-election for an unprecedented third time. But a revolt in November among former supporters, led by Sirisena, has resulted in an unexpected electoral challenge. The opposition accuses Rajapaksa of concentrating too much power in his hands—and those of his family—and of presiding over a corrupt administration. The President is well known for consulting astrologers and is widely viewed as having a powerful horoscope. That is one of the reasons the Opposition mounted its riposte of a news conference on Sunday. In a video interview with the Daily Mirror, Namal Rajapaksa, the President’s eldest son, who is a Member of Parliament, was asked if the family believed in astrology and rituals meant to bring good fortune. “We do believe,” the younger Rajapaksa said. “That’s how we’ve been brought up. That’s our tradition.” He said the family has “been practicing rituals and doing things at auspicious times”. “We are proud of it. There is no reason why I should say or anyone in Sri Lanka say they don’t believe in those things,” he said. “That is part of our culture, part of our customs.” Last month, State-controlled television broadcast a two-hour-long show in which a group of astrologers opined on the strength of the President’s horoscope and his electoral prospects. Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, a leading Presidential astrologer and a Director at the State-run National Savings Bank, declared: “Not only will he be the country’s leader a third time, he will be president a fourth time too. That is how powerful his horoscope is.” Another well-known astrologer, Piyasena Rathuwithana, said that a person with Rajapaksa’s “star arrangement” is “someone we can hand over great responsibility to without fear of and betrayal or failure. This has been proven time and again.” “Horoscopes play a big role, culturally, in our lives,” said Harini Amarasuriya, an anthropologist at the Open University of Sri Lanka. “Astrologers are widely accepted as necessary and scientific. It’s very much the mainstream.” When a child is born in Sri Lanka, the exact time of his or her first cry is usually scrupulously noted. That is then used throughout the person’s life to cast horoscopes and choose lucky times for events from a child’s first meal of solid food, to marriage—and even setting election dates. “Sri Lanka also has a long-lasting connection between astrology and politics,” said Amarasuriya. “It’s not as if everyone subscribes to it, but it’s certainly a factor.” And in such a close election, every vote could matter.