Reading elections in the stars
In a superstitious society, fortune-tellers can influence voter behaviour
The reestablishment of democracy after the March 24 election is not the only thing politicians and citizens are looking forward to.
Many of them find Thai politics inseparable from the words of astrologers. Though their predictions are not completely grounded in science, they may have psychological and even political impacts if they are used as a tool to influence public opinion.
University scholars and politicians interviewed by the Bangkok Post believe astrology will continue to play an important role in politics as long as Thais still look for lucky lottery numbers in a banana blossom that grows into an unusual shape.
Like people's destinies, astrologers connect the positions of the stars with the future of politics, and many people look to these predictions to answer what cannot be explained by laws or media reports.
Politicians are quick to benefit from the fortune-telling as "they can instrumentally use it to build or gauge public views," Wirot Ali, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said.
Mr Wirot cited a prediction about a new prime minister given by Chiang Mai-based astrologer Warin Buawiratlert, who gained notoriety after predicting the political aftermath of the 2006 coup. Mr Warin said he believed that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha would return as prime minister after the poll.
Once his prediction was shared with the public, it became a social issue and soon a political movement, sparked by people who believed his words, Mr Wirot said.
This should not be underestimated as it can become a "power" in politics, especially among people who believe in astrology, he said.
Psychologically, politicians who are told they will have a smooth path ahead will be motivated to move forward, while those who are told they are likely to struggle will be discouraged, deputy Democrat leader Nipit Intarasombat said.
People who remain reluctant to cast their votes on certain politicians "tend to elect those who will win", he said. "That's why it [fortune-telling] can be a political tool."
Considering political astrology this way, Mr Nipit said it will, to some extent, guide or even influence people's opinions. That prospect has caused authorities to issue a law prohibiting the conducting of voter opinion polls near an election date. Fortune-tellers should also be aware of this and obide by the rule, he said.
If astrologers' words can have such an impact, another burning question is whether what they predict is always true, he said. "It can be both correct and incorrect," Pheu Thai Party's secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said.
In the view of Mr Phumtham and other fellow politicians, astrologers not only base their predictions on changes in the positions of the stars, but also consult statistical records and observe public opinion. It depends on "what they perceive and the sources of information they have", Mr Phumtham said.
Reporter-turned-astrologer Fongsanan Chamornchan not only looked to the sky when asked to talk about the future of politics, but she also considered the mindset of the people.
An important factor that could shape the result of the March 24 poll and the shape of the next government are the communication channels of the digital age, she said. Information spread through the internet and mobile phones will "cause changes to, or even revolutionise, the minds of many people", Ms Fongsanan said.
Thailand will, from March 2, enter what astrologers call "the 13th period of Rattanakosin", the name of the Thai Kingdom founded by the Chakri Dynasty in 1782. It is the time which will witness the clashes of thoughts and beliefs, she said.
"I don't want people to get serious [about stars]," astrologer Soratcha Nuanyu said.
Problems may occur this year, but "they will only last for a certain period of time", he said.