Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is running to retain his presidency and is taking the advice of trusted astrologers on how to go about it. In a meeting held on 30 December with dozens of astrologers who pinpoint the auspicious times for everything from signing the nomination papers on 8 January to opening a new office, Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, his chief astrologer, predicted that Rajapaksa will enjoy "a big victory."
Considering the public response to the opposing candidate Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa's unwavering trust in Abeygunawardena's prediction seems to be a little premature. Even until a few months back, Rajapaksa seemed invincible, with expected rivals to be Ranil Wickremesinghe, whom he defeated in 2005, or ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga, a former party senior whom he outmaneuvered in 2005.
However, he found a surprising competitor in Maithripala Sirisena, who had been his close ally for more than 40 years and was also Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) general secretary until a couple of months ago. Sirisena's campaigning point is Rajapaksa's not-so-well hidden attempts to turn the country's democratic politics into little more than a family business, reports Al Jazeera. Three of Rajapaksa's brothers hold positions in the government, and his eldest son, Namal Rajapaksa, is an MP.
Another point of criticism against the Sri Lankan president is that he pushed through an amendment to the constitution that ended term limits for the presidency, allowing him to seek a third term, allegedly to hold on to power until his 25-year-old son is ready to take over.
Some loyalists had taken to calling Mahinda Rajapaksa maharaja, or great king. "Maybe he thought he could be a real king," Sirisena mused during his campaign.
Rajapaksa, who was recently endorsed by Bollywood superstar Salman Khan and former Sri Lankan beauty queen Jaqueline Fernandez, is still confident, "I am not bothered about presidential elections.. I am planning for the next five years and beyond," he told journalists recently.
Astrologists making victorious predictions for Rajapaksa, who had led Sri Lanka through its brutal victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, aren't that confident any more. It is understood that they are already worried about losing their jobs: "So what do you think will happen? Will we have to go home?" they are asking each other.