Sudan's parliament has approved a new electoral law that, for the first time, gives women 25 percent of seats in the national assembly and introduces proportional representation by assigning quotas to political parties. 

In keeping with the new law, 60 percent of MPs will reportedly be elected directly by voters in local constituencies and women would be guaranteed 112 seats of Sudan's 450-member parliament.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed by the north and south to end two decades of civil war, calls for elections no later than 2009. Sudan is supposed to appoint an electoral commission within a month of the law's enactment.

Pagan Amum is Secretary General of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and now minister for cabinet affairs in the Government of National Unity. He told VOA that while there are still problems in Darfur, the SPLM believes the new electoral law marks an important step in the march toward a democratic Sudan.

"This law is different from all the other laws because the SPLM had in the past few years adopted a position of affirmative action to reduce the marginalization of women in our male-dominated society. And now the bill has affirmed 25 percent of all the seats in the government to be reserved to women. We are happy that all the political parties in the country have accepted this position that has been put forward by the SPLM," he said.

Deputy SPLM Secretary General Yasser Arman was quoted as saying the quota system would not favor smaller parties.

Amum said the SPLM is in discussion with President Omar al-Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP).

"We are for a reduced percentage so as to allow as many as smaller groups and regional parties to be able to participate in the decision making process in the country, though the other political parties are demanding that there should be no cut off percentage requirement. We are discussing with the National Congress Party to reach an amicable solution," Amum said.

Observers see the approval of the new electoral law as a major step forward toward national elections in Sudan next year. An electoral commission is supposed to be named soon to prepare for those elections.

Meanwhile, Amum said the agreement reached between the SPLM and NCP to withdraw Sudan forces from the oil-rich Abyei region is a major step forward in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Accord.