After lighting a cluster of incense sticks and bowing three times, a fortuneteller on the capital’s north side yesterday draped his neck with wooden beads and ivory carvings before fanning out a deck of playing cards.
One of Phnom Penh’s most prominent clairvoyants, he claims the fate of the hotly contested commune elections this coming Sunday sits right at his fingertips.
On a crimson tablecloth, two cards are overturned: the ace of clubs, representing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and the ace of diamonds, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“I am very surprised at the two aces. This is the magic,” the fortuneteller said. The two aces, he says, show it is “very, very close”. There will be complaints but no protests, tension but no bloodshed.
The CPP, he predicts, will have a narrow victory; around 52 percent to 48 percent.
He divined the opposition’s vulnerability from the presence of the notorious ace of spades; if a sick man comes to have his fortune told and overturns this unlucky card, it could spell out his death.
But when asked which communes will be dominated by which parties – and about the fate of jailed human rights defenders in the Kingdom – he demurs.
“I am just a fortuneteller, I am not an analyst,” he said.
Indeed, the city’s seers – like its analysts – aren’t totally certain what will happen on June 4. But on the strict condition of anonymity, three prognosticators, who collect coin in exchange for fortunes, agreed to share their election predictions with The Post.
The talisman-draped diviner’s auguring credentials stem from his ancestry – his grandfather, he says, was capable of almost biblical feats.
“He took a scarf and chanted over it, then he threw it on the ground. It became a snake,” he said.
“Then after the snake danced, it turned back into a scarf.”
He added that when he narrowly avoided a fatal car bombing that claimed 24 people’s lives during Lon Nol’s reign, he took it as a sign.
Interpreting a row of aces and eights yesterday, he said that while 70 percent of CNRP supporters are “really brave”, the remaining 30 percent are “very scared”, and could switch their vote to the ruling party.
“The CNRP only have supporters, while the CPP have a lot of money and resources,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Phnom Penh’s riverside, a lady in purple sitting among lotus blooms also claims to have powers of foresight.
Like the first augurer, this seer says the election will be close; she can read it on the cards.
But first the cards offer some contradictory predictions: first, that the CPP will win 80 percent of the vote, then that the CNRP will take 90 percent.
Also finding the ace of spades – which is “very, very bad” and signifies there will be confrontations – she said the CPP will ultimately prove the victor.
“There is tension. The CPP will win, but there’s violence. There are no arrests and no deaths,” she said. “The cards show that they will discuss and negotiate with each other.”
But in the bowels of Boeung Keng Kang market, a young self-proclaimed clairvoyant in black foresees a different outcome.
“The CNRP will have the really strong majority of the vote, there will be so many votes for the CNRP,” she says, pointing to a pair of red aces as proof.
Again, the ace of spades appears: A CNRP victory would not be without conflict.
“They win, but maybe they cannot secure it if there is a problem,” she said. “The elections will be free and fair, but there is a mystery we cannot see into.”
“They will make a deal, but we do not know what the deal is,” she said.
The Kingdom often engages in ceremonial superstitions: The Moha Songkran almanac, containing a slew of prophecies, is compiled by the Ministry of Cults and Religion for every Khmer New Year, while an annual ploughing ceremony foretells crop yields based on royal oxen’s eating preferences.
Even Prime Minister Hun Sen last year lauded a Thai fortuneteller’s “perfectly correct” predictions, which foretold the CNRP’s downfall.
Social researcher Meas Ny said high-ranking officials often used augury and prayer to their political advantage. But he said that while the elderly still held a lot of trust in old traditions, “it’s not very popular with the youth, who are more obsessed with technology”.
CPP Spokesman Suos Yara said he was unfazed by the predictions of a tight result.
“My personal fortuneteller told [me] that we will win by a landslide,” Yara said via text.
CNRP deputy Eng Chhay Eang, on the other hand, laughed off the prophecies. “I do not believe in fortunetellers,” he said. “This is not up to the fortuneteller, it is up to the people’s will.”
The commune elections are widely regarded by both major parties as a forecast for next year’s crucial national election. But for the fate of that contest, the fortunetellers yesterday predicted enquirers would have to come back and ask again next year.
Yet according to Ny, the social researcher, something other than augury might be more helpful in 2018: proper political polling.
“I support the polling,” he said. “This is really needed, but because of the anxiety around political parties [and] because Cambodia is still politically fragile, maybe we need to move slowly.”