Swe Swe Win, a Myanmar fortuneteller who had the ears of several Southeast Asian politicians for over two decades and influenced major political events, died at 4:20am on Sunday at the age of 58.
Many referred to her as “ET” because of her alleged resemblance to the titular character in the 1982 American film “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” In fact, she was physically disabled, blind, and had a speech impediment. Her sister Thi Thi Win interpreted and delivered the diminutive clairvoyant’s predictions to high-paying clients.
During her counseling sessions, Swe Swe Win would demonstrate her clairvoyance by guessing serial numbers on the money in her clients’ wallets. In 2007, she reportedly came within two digits of guessing the eight-digit serial number on a US$100 bill in a reporter’s pocket.
Swe Swe Win was sought out for advice by people both in Myanmar and beyond. She famously advised former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to remain outside Thailand between September 8 and 22, 2006, in order to avoid bad luck. He was deposed by a military coup while attending the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on September 19, allowing him to avoid arrest.
The fortuneteller has also been credited with the idea to move Myanmar’s capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw, which military dictator General Than Shwe carried out in 2005. The leaders of Thailand’s 1991 military coup also reportedly consulted with Swe Swe Win before they struck.
In 2007, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Indonesian embassy in Myanmar had booked two days of Swe Swe Win’s schedule for a visiting government minister.
Back then, her rate was around US$70 per 30-minute session. By the time of her death, she was reportedly making around US$900 per 15-minute session. In 2012, The Nation reported that she earned US$7 million every month.
She was the founder of a charity called the ET Humanitarian Foundation and had recently campaigned for the release of Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, who were controversially sentenced to death for the murder of two British backpackers in Koh Tao, Thailand, in 2014.
She died at her home in Yangon’s Thingangyun Township. Her family told Frontier she died “naturally and peacefully” in her sleep, and not as a result of any particular disease.
Her body was scheduled to be buried today at Yangon’s Yayway Cemetery.