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Passage of 20A:

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Auspicious prelude to creation of a New Constitution

By Rohana R. Wasala

The Sinhalese in independent Sri Lanka have been nationalistic, but never narrowly communalistic; they have never illtreated non-Sinhala minorities on the basis of race or religion. Those who are wallowing in a sea of misinformation having been swept there by tides of hostile propaganda over the decades, may bristle at this, but the truth must be stated. The nationalism of the Sinhalese is not a construct of the last colonial era. Contrary to what Eurocentric theorists, their local clones, imperialist lackeys and their modern dupes believe, it is an inclusive nationalism. In their long history, the nationalism of the Sinhalese has been synonymous with patriotism or the love of their country, their island homeland. The JVP of 1971 and 1987-89 shed blood in the name of the country, not in the name of a race or a religion unlike respectively the defeated LTTE and the recent NTJ. To point this out is not being communalistic; it is only reacting to a false criticism. The racists and the extremists among the minorities raise false allegations of communalism against the majority community to justify their own communalism.

Today, even a section of the Sinhalese polity, including some young members of the FB generation, seem to think that to be a nationalist is the same as being a racist. That misconception is largely because they are not well enough informed about their own true history and truly admirable, multifaceted heritage, a legacy that is enjoyed by all communities in common: the still functional parts of the ancient hydraulic system, archaeological remains that attract foreign tourists and earn foreign exchange for the public coffers,and many other treasures. But anti-national individuals and agencies still censor Anagarika Dharmapala, the pioneer national revivalist of the colonial era, as a hate figure for ideologically rekindling, around the beginning of the 20th century, the nationalist spirit of the patriotic Sinhalese that had been choked in the course of a number of popular uprisings by force of arms by colonial invaders following the 1815 British intrigue. All the Sinhalese leaders who caused the 1948, 1956, 1972, 2009, and 2019 restorative revolutionary watersheds to happen were inspired by Dharmapala and were opposed by the real racists and received little support from non-Buddhist religious extremists. 

The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British imperialists was naturally to the greater disadvantage of the majority community than to the minorities, who in fact stood to gain from it. The British exploited the minorities to weaken the historical defenders of the land. It may be plausibly argued that they used them as tacit allies to restrain the Sinhalese from rebellion, in return for privileged treatment (although this was limited to an elite that politically mattered to them, while the majority of the dispossessed mixed masses consisting of common Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims shared the rigours of colonial exploitation without discrimination). 

Particularly, the racist leaders of the Tamil minority feared that a parliamentary system of government where the Sinhalese would hold power because of their numerical superiority would mean a loss of their privileged status (hence the notorious 50-50 seat allocation demand of G.G. Ponnambalam which was contemptuously rejected by the Soulbury Commissioners in 1946. All the overtures that Sinhalese leaders, from D.S. Senanayake to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, made to the few but powerful racists (among the minority politicians) who somehow manage to hoodwink their people and persuade them to vote for them have failed to convince them to cooperate wholeheartedly with the majority in making unitary Sri Lanka a strong sovereign state where they harbour equal stakes and enjoy equal rights and share equal responsibilities. 

The false allegation of Sinhala communalism finds a convenient platform in the demand for the constitutional emasculation of the institution of the executive presidency (if complete abolition is not possible). This is because it is usually a Sinhalese who stands a chance of getting elected as president by the pan-Sri Lanka electorate. These minority politicians (the extremist few, not all minority politicians) propagate the idea that all Sinhalese are communalists, and that every president will be biased against their people.  But this is a fallacy. Though, at present, there is no likelihood of a minority politician becoming president because the minority polities are still mostly under the sway of racists and religious extremists, it is not an impossibility. If the non-racist, non-extremist politicians that there are among them are allowed to emerge dominant, they certainly will find more favour with the average Sinhalese voters than a conceited Premadasa or a clueless Sirisena, and a correspondingly modest and knowledgeable Tamil or Muslim president will no longer be just a dream.  There are many examples from the past to illustrate the possibility of such an eventuality, but this is not the time for dwelling on the subject.

 

Unwarranted dilution of the powers of the executive presidency was what was achieved by the controversial 19A, which, effectively divided people’s sovereign power between the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker. It was a three-headed monster, as a government minister recently said. As a result of it the sovereign people had to put up with a severely dysfunctional parliament that brought disaster to the country for an interminable four and a half years before it was finally dissolved by the President and a fresh Parliament elected.  The potential for the continuation of such a corrupt malfunctioning parliament is greater when the executive power of the President to dissolve it is curtailed or is completely taken away. That provides a situation open to exploitation by the Rishads and Hakeems of this world.

The Island

editorial/October 20, 2020 made the following comment, which suggests the despicable way they are ready to cock a snook at the sovereignty of the people: 

‘Bathiudeen brought down the hurriedly formed Sirisena-Rajapaksa government, in 2018, by refusing to vote with it in Parliament. That administration crashed, unable to raise a simple majority in the House. This time around, Bathiudeen can give the present regime the kiss of death by voting for the 20A. If he and his four MPs vote for 20A, as expected, those who claim that he and the government have struck a secret deal will be vindicated. The only way the government can avert such a situation is to engineer the crossover of some other Opposition MPs so that it does not have to depend on Bathiudeen…..’  

Who is this Bathiudeen? He was one of the Muslims forcibly evacuated from the North as a result of Prabhakaran’s ethnic cleansing policy. When Bathiudeen came down to Colombo he was a penniless youth with nothing but the worn out clothes on his body, it is said. Today, he is a billionaire with palatial houses here and there, and thousands of acres of land in his possession, with some more lands given to his relatives. He was able to help himself to such great wealth and also indulge in philanthropy at the expense of the state  because he became a politician and managed to join the winning side continuously from the previous MR government to the end of Yahapalanaya, and battened on the suffering of the fellow members of his own displaced community. During the near decade in power, he was charged by environmental groups with the devastating deforestation of the Wilpattu forest reserve; he was  rumoured to be complicit in importing cocaine hidden among goods in CWE containers, illegally exploiting the ilmenite containing mineral sand deposits at Pulmudai for personal profits, abusing the CWE to propagate extremist Islamist ideology, and he was even accused of having connections with the Jihadists who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels.  When the police finally started looking for him to arrest him on the charge of having abused state/public property by transporting by SLTB buses some 10,000 voters from their new places of residence to their old (for casting their vote a second time it was alleged in the media) on the day of the presidential election in November last year. How is it that an extremely unscrupulous, originally insignificant penurious politician has been allowed to invest himself with such power as The Island editorial has described?

This is because the minority communalists who stick that label on the majority have been empowered by the existing faulty electoral system being abused, and the majority community effectively disenfranchised in the process. Having to strike a deal with political criminals or to ‘engineer the crossover of some other Opposition MPs’ as The Island editorial suggests in order to get 20A or any other nationally important piece of legislation through parliament, is a wretched proposition for any sovereign nation even to contemplate. But, isn’t there any prospect for the nation to reverse this unfortunate self inflicted anomaly? In my opinion, there is. It is to get rid of our own fear of adopting strategies that might run the risk of being attacked as racist, Sinhala Supremacist, discriminatory towards minorities, contrary to international standards, etc. We have to learn not to give a fig to such unfounded accusations. 

At present, the Sinhalese are scrupulously guiltless in this respect. Still they are treated as if they were the worst racists, human rights violaters, xenophobes, chauvinists in the world. Sometimes their own leaders criticise them for being jaatiwadin, or racists as Premadasa and Sirisena have already done: 

Former President Sirisena was heard, at the Easter Sunday Attacks inquiry recently, referring to racists among the Sinhalese. In a Twitter message, which was only in English and Tamil, but not in Sinhala, during the presidential election campaigning period, SJB leader Premadasa charged that Muslims were subjected to discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese! He toured the North, presumably to show the northern Tamils that he was a champion of Tamil rights. He was given a heroic welcome in Jaffna and he garnered many Tamil votes, too. But it is not that they fell for stratagems; they knew that he was ready to betray his own people for a mess of (electoral) pottage.

 

Could a person who doesn’t care about his own kind be concerned about other people? 

 

The alleged Sinhala racists are none other than the few monks and some young Sinhala activists who are merely reacting to proven cases of harassment, aggression, and subversion against them by some extremist elements from among the minorities. Considerable numbers of young Tamils and Muslims are also among their supporters. Had the successive governments taken them seriously, the slaughter of innocents on April 21 could have been avoided. They represent millions, but are they taken notice of? Are they given proper media coverage? Global media (international TV channels such as Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, etc) broadcast distorted news about them.

There’s no place for them on the You Tube, either. 

The true situation in the country is different from what is usually reported in these media. Why did the nationalists win very nearly two thirds of parliamentary seats, with the racists and religious extremists getting fewer than what they usually win? The result surprised even the nationalists. This shows that the Sinhalese electorate can decide the future of the country by themselves. But they naturally prefer to do so with the participation of the minorities. If the Sinhalese MPs in parliament forget their partisan divisions and remember the patriotism of their ancestors who shed their blood to save their motherland for all its inhabitants, they will voluntarily help the government to muster the two thirds majority required or even more for introducing a completely new constitution when the time comes for that.

Not less than the survival of the unitary state, the nation, the dominant Buddhist culture and the island territory is at stake.  The America-led West and India seem to have found a deus ex machina opportunity to further crank up pressure on economically doddering Sri Lanka in the fast expanding mysterious Brandix Covid-19 cluster and in a court judgement given in UK that is favourable to the LTTE rump still active there: It was reported in the media on Wednesday (October 21, 2020) that UK’s Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission has concluded that the Home Office decision to keep the LTTE  as a proscribed terrorist organisation was flawed and unlawful. So, the British parliament is likely to lift the ban on the organization in that country. Britain is one of the forty countries that proscribed the terror outfit. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, this will make little difference to the status quo, because the UK has practically always allowed its members to behave as if there was no ban on it. 

So, all MPs in parliament, please forget your party, ethnic, religious and interpersonal differences in the name of our motherland. At the time of writing, the ad hoc 20A is to be put to the vote. It will be passed with necessary amendments. It is good if this was carried out without the government having to strike secret deals with communalists or to engineer crossovers from the Opposition (which would be a slap in the face of the voting public). The more momentous responsibility that you are going to fulfill is  to create a sound new constitution for our country that will save our nation from squabbling geopolitical powers who are promoting their own separate national interests at our expense, leaving us in perpetual political instability and endless economic misery. You Hon. MPs, especially the fresh thinking young ones, owe our resplendent island homeland  no less.

(PS: The 20A was passed in parliament with 156 voting for it and only 65 against. The votes cast in favour  exceeds the required two thirds majority by 6 votes. It is obvious that the government did not have to make undue special overtures towards Muslim MPs. There were only 6 Muslim votes but they were not critical, they were dispensable. It is clear that the Muslim MPs thrust themselves on the government side without being asked. Probably, they did this on the prior instructions of Hakeem (and Rishad as well). I think so because, about two weeks ago, Hakeem  told media men that he wouldn’t vote for 20A but that the other members of his party would probably do so. The government had better be careful: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Only Faustian bargains can be made with fundamentalists. No reasonable democratic dialogue is possible with Islamists. The government, it seems, was short of only 2 votes for acquiring the required number of votes, which was 150. Those two votes came from Tamil MP Aravind Kumar and SJB’s Diana Gamage. The latter violated her leader’s injunction, for which she must be praised. In my opinion, it is obvious that the former president, Sirisena, didn’t take part in the voting, not because the controversial NGO drafted and promoted 19A was passed under his presidency, but because he couldn’t any longer get associated with the hypocrisy of its defenders. 

The drafting of a completely new constitution commenced two or three weeks ago. The process will get into top gear now. The multiethnic drafting committee is headed by the renowned PC Romesh de Silva, and includes other legal luminaries such as Manohara de Silva and experts in related fields such as geologist and geopolitical analyst and commentator Prof. Gerald H. Peiris. They who love Sri Lanka as their beloved motherland can be expected to collectively produce a document that will be as much acceptable to the minorities as it is to the majority.)   



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Sinharaja world heritage

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Conservation Outlook Assessment: Significant Concern

By Professor Emeritus Nimal Gunatilleke

Continued from Yesterday

 

Water diverted from Ampanagala reservoir to Muruthawela will be used to meet the irrigation deficit of Muruthawela and Kirama Oya systems and the balance will be transferred to Chandrika Wewa, through existing LB canal of Muruthawela scheme up to 13.8 km and a new canal of 17.0 km. After that, the water requirement of Hambantota harbour is to be transferred to Ridiyagama tank through the Walawe river and Liyangasthota anicuit. However, due to the extreme length of the diversion through the three-river basins of Nilwala, Kirama Ara and Urubokka Oya, it will lead to a massive conveyance losses of the diverted water while on the way to the Walawe basin. Furthermore, enormous costs associated with its construction, a failure to fully realise the intended outcomes due to a shortage of water budget will simply be a burden that Sri Lanka cannot afford with her current economic condition, according to Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi. It may be worth recording that the water ingress into the grouted tunnel of the Uma Oya near Ella has still not been fully repaired, even though the Uma Oya project is nearing completion. An expensive lesson to be learnt on the nature of the weathered geological structure, lineaments and implementing its unexpected and costly mitigatory measures which will eventually to be paid back by this and future generations of tax payers of this country.

According to the Irrigation Department web site postings, Mahaweli Consultancy Bureau has initiated the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), but due to the unavailability of concurrence of the Forest Department, revised TOR has not been issued by the CEA. Therefore, due to the unavailability of updated TOR, the EIA study has been delayed.

Environmentally, the most contentious issue highlighted in the news media is the proposed construction of a RCC dam at Madugeta to build a reservoir for which around 79 ha of forested (and some agricultural) lands in Sinharaja and a portion of prisine riverine forest in Dellawa would be inundated. On the Sinharaja side of the proposed Madugeta reservoir (right abutment) at present there are home gardens and small-scale tea plantations in addition to good riverine forests. In contrast however, proportionately a larger area of luxuriant forest of Dellawa, which is a part of the new ‘Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex’ would go under the chain saw for this reservoir construction (left abutment). The Geo-engineering report of May 2019 on GNDP has revised the siting of the dam to a more favourable location with supposedly reduced impacts but they forewarn that the three core-drilling along the proposed dam axis that had to be temporarily abandoned due to protests made by the villagers, need to be completed to confirm the geological suitability for the dam site.

 

Are there any Environment-Friendly Alternative Options?

As an alternative site for a dam on Gin Ganga, Eng. Nandasoma Atukorale (Specialist Engineer [Hydropower]) has proposed a location at the confluence of Mahadola with Gin Ganga at the village of Mederipitiya, way back in 2006. According to him, the riverbed at this site is 261 masl and have a catchment area of 132 km2. He proposes the construction of a 35 m high concrete gravity type dam that would form a reservoir with a storage capacity of 65 million cu.m and a potential discharge of 320 million cu.m of water annually which could divert 293 million cu. m of water to the SE Dry Zone. Most importantly, this region passes through a relatively narrow section of the river which is ideally suited for a dam according to him. However, geological suitability and socio-economic impacts of local communities need to be investigated, beforehand.

Quite interestingly, Eng. Athukorale claims that ‘although it is not economically very attractive, another 200 million cu.m of water could be diverted to the Nilwala basin by constructing a dam across Gin Ganga at the downstream of the confluence with Dellawa Dola at the village of Madugeta, with an 8000 m long tunnel which could be considered at a later stage provided further water shortages are experienced in the area’.

 

Now that the proposed Madugeta reservoir is receiving heavy criticisms from the environmental front, wonder whether Mederipitiya option proposed by Eng. Athukorale could be revisited for the diversion of Gin-Nilwala river water to the SE Dry Zone.

In a research paper titled ‘Comparison of Alternative Proposals for Domestic and Industrial Water Supply for Hambantota Industrial Development Zone’ Eng. Prema Hettiarachchi makes a comparison among three irrigation projects Kukule Ganga, Gin-Nilwala and Wey Ganga to convey water from the SW wet zone to SE dry zone.

She proposes yet another option that is probably still on the drawing boards to be considered which is the Wey Ganga diversion in Ratnapura District. According to her, this could meet the industrial and drinking water requirement (154 MCM + drinking water) of Hambantota metropolitan area at a significantly lower cost and with less damage to the environment. Further, there is a possibility of augmenting this scheme by diverting a part of Kalu Ganga catchment at a later stage.

Eng. Hettiarachchi further states that ‘by comparing the workload, it could be estimated to be nearly one third that of the Gin-Nilwala diversion. The Wey Ganga diversion can be carried out at a significantly lower cost by local agencies. That can also address the water scarcity of Hambantota metropolitan area including the requirements of international harbour and proposed industrial development zone with the relatively less environmental damage which is a major issue with respect to large scale projects. Construction period will also be less since the workload is less and can be carried out by the local agencies’.

What I have strived to show with this detailed irrigation engineering information available on public domain in the form of research publications, is that the Madugeta reservoir option is not the only one available for taking water from the wet zone rivers to the SE Dry Zone which is indeed a legitimate requirement for agricultural and industrial development of that region.

Pre-feasibility studies have been conducted on these options since 1968 and a considerable wealth of technical information is already available with the Irrigation Department. Apparently, according to knowledgeable irrigation engineers, there are more environmentally friendly, and cost-effective options with greater assurance of water conveyance to the SE Dry Zone available for consideration. It is often the case that during pre-feasibility studies of these large engineering projects, environmental concerns are given the least priority. Steady supply of water during extreme drought events which are becoming more frequent depends very much on the nature of the vegetation cover of the watershed area. These environmental aspects need to be critically evaluated before such costly projects are designed. As an example, although, the major engineering work of the Uma Oya project has been almost completed, its cost-effectiveness is yet to be seen with a denuded watershed, a potential of heavy soil erosion on top of the unexpected heavy expenditure on tunnel boring and other engineering works.

Biologically speaking, the Dellawa Forest Reserve is an integral part of Sinharaja Rain Forest Complex representing the pristine climax forest vegetation of SE wet lowlands and provide a vital connectivity link to adjoining Diyadawa forest of equal significance via the remains of Dombagoda forest. Therefore, clearing a riverine strip of this forest for the construction of Madugeta Reservoir would lead to an irreparable and irreplaceable damage to its characteristic riverine/flood plain forest vegetation.

On the other hand, pledging a reforestation initiative of a much larger area with Hevea rubber as a compensatory measure proposed by the political administration is totally unacceptable. Preserving intact forests in protected areas has no substitutes or replacements. Furthermore, the Natural Heritage Wilderness Area act and the binding articles of the UNESCO Convention on Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage to which Sri Lanka is a signatory, clearly state that causing direct or indirect damage to a natural heritage is legally not permissible.

In summary, the Sinharaja World Heritage Site is already in a state whose biological values are threatened and/or are showing signs of deterioration and significant additional conservation measures have been recommended to restore these values over the medium and long term. Adding more threats like the construction of reservoirs inside protected areas at this stage would inevitably downgrade the values further to a ‘critical conservation outlook’ which is not what the citizenry of Sri Lanka and the world at large would acknowledge as ‘sustainable development’.

The author of this article is a member of the National Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka and he thanks Dr Jagath Gunathilaka of Peradeniya University for providing the geotechnical information described herein. The author can be contacted at .)

 

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US seeking way out of Afghan killing field

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As the Biden administration makes its initial moves to extricate the US’ remaining security forces personnel from Afghanistan, it would do well to ponder on former US President John F. Kennedy’s insightful comment on foreign policy: ‘Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ This is a rare nugget on the nature of foreign policy.

Considering the high costs, human and economic, a country could incur as a result of blundering on its foreign policy front, Kennedy could be said to have spoken for all countries. However, there is no denying that the comment is particularly applicable to expansionist powers or ‘hegemonic’ states.

Sensible opinion is likely to be of the view that the US decision on quitting Afghanistan should have come very much earlier; may be a couple of years after its bloody misadventure in the conflict and war-ridden country. Considering the terribly high human costs in particular the US’ 20 long years in Afghanistan have incurred, the US could be said to have committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders, overshadowing in severity the blood-letting incurred by the super power in Vietnam. However, in both theatres, the consequences for the US have been of unbearable magnitude.

The US death toll speaks for itself. At the time of writing more than 2,300 US security forces personnel have been killed and over 20,000 injured in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that over 450 Britons have died in the same quagmire along with hundreds of similar personnel from numerous other nationalities. Apparently, it took an exceptionally long period of time for the US to realize that Afghanistan for it was a lost cause.

The lesson that the US and other expansionist powers ought to come to grips with is that it would not be an ‘easy ride’ for them in the complex conflict and war zones of the South. The ground realities in these theatres are of mind-boggling complexity and Afghanistan drives this point home with notable harshness. Power projection in South-west Asia and persistence with its ‘war on terror’ were among the apparent prime objectives of the US in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq but what the US did not evidently take into consideration before these military involvements were the internal political realities of these countries that are not at all amenable to simplistic analyses and policy prescriptions.

The Soviets ought to have come to grips with some features of the treacherous political terrain presented by Afghanistan in the late eighties but their principal preoccupations were related more to the compulsions of the Cold War. Simply put, the Soviets were bent on preserving the ‘satellite’ status of Afghanistan and their war effort was aimed at this in the main. Preparing Afghanistan for democracy was not even least among the Soviet Union’s concerns, of course.

However, the same does not apply to the US. The latter helped the Mujaheddin in the task of getting rid of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan but its aim was also to have a US-friendly regime in Kabul that would be a veritable bridgehead of US power and influence in the region on a continuous basis. In other words, the US expected the regime which replaced the Soviets to be pro-Western and essentially democracy-friendly. The US did not in any way bargain to have in Afghanistan Islamic fundamentalist regimes whose political philosophies were the anti-thesis of democracy as perceived in the US and practised by it.

However, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime which eventually came to power in the mid-nineties in Afghanistan, once the Soviets withdrew, defied all Western expectations. As is known, the Taliban was not only repressive and undemocratic but was staunchly opposed to everything Western. There were no hopes of the Taliban working towards Western interests. Besides, the US did not expect to see in Afghanistan a country dangerously divided on ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The problems of Afghanistan have been compounded over the years by the coming together of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda and these groups have world wide Islamic fundamentalist links.

It has been the aim of the US to have in Kabul religiously moderate, pro-democratic regimes but as developments have proved over the past few decades these administrations have not been in a position to hold out against the Taliban. In fact, it is the Taliban that is veritably at the helm of power in Afghanistan currently and years of futile attempts at trying to contain the Taliban have brought home to the US and its allies that they have no choice but to talk to the Taliban in order to secure some respite to effect ‘an honourable exit’ from the bloodied land. This is where matters stand at present.

However, as pointed out by commentators, it is the Afghan civilian population that has suffered most in the decades-long blood-letting in the country. Conservative estimates put the number of Afghan security forces personnel killed in Afghanistan at around 60,000 to date and the number of civilians killed at double that figure.

Accordingly, the Afghan people would be left to face an uncertain and highly risk-riddled future when the last of the US security forces personnel and their allies leave Afghanistan in September this year. The country would be left to its own devices and considering that the Taliban will likely be the dominant formation in the country and not its legitimate government, the lot of Afghan civilians is bound to be heart-rending.

There is plenty to ponder on for the US and other democratic countries in the agonies of Afghanistan. One lesson that offers itself is that not all countries of the South are ‘ready for democracy’. This applies to very many countries of the South that already claim to be democracies in the Western sense. Southern ‘democratic’ polities defy easy analysis and categorization in consideration of the multitude of identity markers they present along with the legitimacy that they have achieved in the eyes of their states and populations. What we have are dangerously volatile states riddled with contradictions. Relating to them will prove to be highly problematic for the rest of the world.

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The Soul

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The Soul (also known as Ji hun) is based on the sci-fi novel ‘Soul Transfer’, written by Jiang Bo in 2012. The novel was widely popular and inspired director Cheng Wei-Hao to adapt the tale into a movie. The story is about a married couple who are determined to uncover the truth behind strange activities in their community. According to the official synopsis for the film from Netflix, while investigating the death of a businessman, a prosecutor and his wife uncover occult secrets as they face their own life-and-death dilemma. The film stars Chang Chen, Janine Chang and Christopher Lee among others.

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