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Psychics replacing pollsters?
Politicians rely on spiritualists in Indonesia vote

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Noni sits in a dark, smoke-filled room adorned with golden statues and red walls. Apparently in a trance, she waves a smoldering incense stick above her head, stomps her feet, taps a small drum and laughs.

The spirits tell her that Megawati Sukarnoputri's party will win Indonesia's crucial parliamentary elections Monday and that a special assembly will appoint the popular opposition figure president later this year.Maybe she's truly seeing the future. Hundreds of thousands have rallied in Jakarta's streets in support of Megawati in recent days. Crowds have been thin, though, for the ruling Golkar party.

It's been 44 years since the last open election was held in the world's fourth most populous nation. Democracy is a new thing for most electors, and scientific surveying remains an untried novelty.

But for millions who rely on soothsaying across this sprawling Southeast Asian country for everyday advice, psychics are a sure bet. With the election only days away, newspapers, pundits -- even the politicians themselves -- are consulting their favorite mediums.

When it comes to forecasting results, many trust fortune tellers ahead of pollsters, who -- as luck would have it -- also say Megawati is the presidential front-runner. The pollsters, though, predict no single party will win an outright majority in the 500-seat Parliament.

The popularity of psychics can be traced back centuries, before the arrival of Islam. Even though Indonesia is now the world's largest Muslim country, the ancient animist belief in the existence of spirits separate from the body has remained embedded in the country's culture.

Magicians and fortune tellers can be found in almost every city, town and village. Many are also traditional healers.

Chinese spiritualism, practiced by Noni, also thrives.

"Usually people ask for advice on their love lives, family problems, health or money," says Noni, who like many Indonesians prefers to use only one name.

But supernatural beliefs also play a big role in government.

Megawati's father, Sukarno, Indonesia's first president, is said to have routinely consulted psychics before deciding weighty matters of state. Other officials are rumored to have asked wizards to cast spells to boost their careers or undercut rivals.

Ex-President Suharto and current President B.J. Habibie, who trails in the polls, have visited the graves of ancestors and loved ones in search of guidance and inspiration.

Megawati herself is advised by Permadi, one of Indonesia's most famous psychics, who dresses exclusively in black.

He, too, backs her for the presidency but warns it won't be an easy victory.