CHIANG MAI, THAILAND —
In Thailand, fortune-tellers have long been sought out for spiritual advice and guidance. But since last month’s military takeover of the country, even spiritual ceremonies can take on political overtones.
Given the uncertainty following the May 22 coup, many are seeking guidance from spiritualists and fortune tellers.
Popular Thai soothsayer Varin Buaviratlert says he got his calling early in life.
"When I was 9 years old, my spirit travelled outside my body and I could see myself through a vision," he said. "Since then, I have studied the supernatural."
More than 40 years later, the clairvoyant offers his predictions to Thailand’s affluent, including the country’s top brass.
Varin performed a special "life-prolonging" ceremony for the victorious generals of a 2006 military coup. Today, the soothsayer claims he has visions of the new military ruler, Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has granted himself all executive and legislative power.
"In a vision, I saw General Prayuth was a great soldier for King Narasuan and I was involved with him, too," Varin said. "I saw the vision from the past life when we fought together and now we are born again in this life to save the country."
A clouded future
But in the northern voting strongholds of ousted caretaker government leader Yingluck Shinawatra, some see little to be happy about.
A deeply flawed rice-subsidy program recently was scrapped by the military rulers, leaving growers worried that profits will go elsewhere.
"In the past year, the rice scheme benefited the farmers," said one of them, Kham Lalirm. "If there is no pledging project, the middleman will push the price lower and only they will keep the money in their pockets."
The army announced Wednesday that it had developed an alternate plan to help rice growers, Reuters reported. Otherwise, the government remains tight-lipped about its future policies.
It has ordered village chiefs to report any suspicious activities, especially those by the Red Shirts – largely rural supporters of Shinawatra’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thailand’s exiled former prime minister, unseated in the 2006 coup, championed populist causes such as health care and food subsidies.
The Red Shirts politically oppose the largely urban, affluent Yellow Shirts, who support traditional structures including the monarchy and military.
The two colors have taken on increased significance since the most recent coup.
Phor Tamkham, a spiritualist, said that when he "put up a red flag to mark where our spirit ceremony was, the soldiers came to our festival, asking us if we were involved with Red Shirt political activists."
For now, the military has managed to silence the critics.
But many Thai academics predict the country could unravel rapidly if voices from the rural majority are ignored.
They just aren’t allowed to say it publicly.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.