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Karzai accused of buying votes before electio -

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ELEANOR HALL: The people of Afghanistan will go to the polls this Thursday for the first election
conducted by Afghans, rather than by international organisations.

But the Taliban is threatening retribution for anyone who votes.

And Afghan citizens may also be put off by the rumours that the election will be rigged.

As Carly Laird reports President Hamid Karzai has already been accused of buying Shia votes by
passing a controversial Sharia law that has outraged many Afghan women.

CARLY LAIRD: Voting preparations are underway across Afghanistan.

But in some more remote areas there's difficulty getting the necessary equipment through.

VOX POP 1 [translated] : We've problems with getting the materials to the polling centres. We have
problems with transportation because our roads have been destroyed by heavy flooding and now we use
animals to transport the election materials to the sites.

CARLY LAIRD: The almost 40 candidates for president have now wrapped up their campaigns. The clear
frontrunner is incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

But running a close second is his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. Supporters were out
in force at a rally he held in Kabul.

A late surge by Dr Abdullah could force a run-off election if none of the candidates win a majority
on Thursday. But there's already concern that election tension could boil over into street violence
if presidential losers allege massive fraud.

Some women's rights activists are accusing President Karzai of buying Shia votes by passing a
controversial family law. It allows Shi'ite men to refuse food and money to their wives if they
deny them sex.

This local Kabul man thinks the law is appropriate.

VOX POP 2 [translated]: In my opinion the law that has been made by the clerics and respectable
people is okay. And it's good for Muslim society.

But the female politician Shinkai Kharokhel has been trying to reform the legislation.

SHINKAI KHAROKHEL: We have a large number of women which are uneducated in the country. We have
strong roots of tradition that women feel it's really shame to go and knock the door of the court
and ask for their own rights.

CARLY LAIRD: She thinks President Karzai was aiming to appease the conservative Shiite clergy in
the lead up to the election.

Professor Amin Saikal, the Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic studies at the Australian
National University, agrees.

AMIN SAIKAL: This is to really please a particular religious leader of the Shiites and buy the vote
of the followers of that particular leader. This law will affect only the Shiite Muslim population
of Afghanistan and they constitute something like about 15 to 20 per cent of the total population.

CARLY LAIRD: Professor Saikal thinks although some female voters will be discouraged by the recent
law, they'll still turn out to vote.

AMIN SAIKAL: I think there is a great deal of voters apathy and there is a great deal of
disillusionment to with the Karzai Government but at the same time rallies in the last few weeks of
the election campaign indicated that many voters also would like to really go to the polls and
stand up and make sure that their votes count.

CARLY LAIRD: But he does think threats of violence from the Taliban will have an effect on voter

AMIN SAIKAL: I think it will affect a number of people, particularly in the Pashtun populated areas
of Afghanistan where the hotbed of the insurgency is located. That is in the south and eastern

CARLY LAIRD: And how might this affect the result?

AMIN SAIKAL: I think it could affect the results to the extent that it may help the opposition
candidates to President Karzai and may well push the election into the second round. And this is
what the strategy of the leading political opponent of Mr Karzai - that is Dr Abdullah, is.

CARLY LAIRD: Ballots will be counted by hand and it's estimated results will be available in two to
three weeks.

ELEANOR HALL: Carly Laird reporting.