An annual sacred ritual produced conflicting omens yesterday for Thailand, mired in a deep political and constitutional crisis.
A royal astrologer and a group of civil servants wearing traditional red and white costumes solemnly marched behind the oxen as they plowed a symbolic furrow in the dusty ground below the gilded rooftops of Bangkok's Grand Palace in an ancient ritual broadcast on national television
The beasts were then offered seven platters of food on banana leaves to select from: rice, maize, green beans, sesame seeds, alcohol, water and grass, while officials spread seeds to mark the start of the farming season.
"The oxen ate grass and drank water, which means that this year the water will be sufficient, and food, vegetables and crops will be plentiful," Sithiporn Chiraphan, an Agriculture Ministry official, quoted the astrologer as saying.
But the senior Agriculture Ministry official leading the ceremony, offered a choice of three pieces of cloth to wear, chose one signifying inadequate rain and a bumpy crop year for the world's biggest exporter of rice, rubber and tapioca.
The omens are not always accurate, however. In the previous two years, they foretold abundant rains and healthy crops. The country's prime industrial zone had its worst drought in years and southern coastal areas had worse than usual floods.
Private astrologers interpreted the omens from yesterday's ceremony, which marks the end of the dry season and was overseen by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, as signifying a roller-coaster year in politics.
"There will be battles and chaos in the country," said Pinyo Pong-charoen, head of the international Astrological Association.
That would surprise nobody in Thailand, where a Bangkok street campaign against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra set off months of political turmoil.
Thaksin countered it by calling a snap general election which he expected to demonstrate his overwhelming popularity in the countryside to the metropolitan middle classes who accused him of corruption and abuse of power, charges he denies.
The plan backfired when a boycott of the April 2 election by the three main opposition parties left seats in parliament unfilled and the legislature unable to convene to form a new government and a top court declared the poll unlawful.
Still, at least one fortune teller believed the choice of grass by the oxen was good news for Thaksin in the re-run election on a date still to be determined.
Retired Police Colonel Attaviroj Sritula said it meant the grassroots voter would get more attention in the new poll and Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party would win again.
"But my personal advice to Thaksin is he should step aside and let someone else in the party be prime minister," said Attaviroj, who failed to win a Senate seat in last month's polls.
The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it might take until September to unravel the constitutional hurdles to installing a new government.
That forecast was in line with the reading of the stars by Kengkard Jongjaiprah, who said stability would return in October when Jupiter, which represents Thailand, moves into an auspicious location.
"Jupiter is moving backward now, but it will move to an auspicious spot from October," the astrologer said.