All countries now allowing women right to vote: IPU

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Saudi Arabia's decision to allow women to vote and run in municipal elections means that no country in the world now discriminate against women on the books when it comes to elect leaders, the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union said on Monday.

"We have checked the records," Theo-Ben Gurirab, who is also speaker of the National Assembly of of Namibia, told AFP by phone from his home country.

"I don't want to mention one country, but I can mention it because neither men nor women participate in politics -- that is Brunei Darussalam, the oil-rich little kingdom in South East Asia," he said.

"For the rest, I will stand on the record," the president of the IPU, the Geneva-based forum of 157 national parliaments, said.

On Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah made a surprise announcement that "women will have the right to run in municipal elections and to choose candidates."

"We have decided that women will participate in the Shura Council as members starting the next term," he said on state television.

Women's rights activists have long fought for the right to vote in the Gulf kingdom, which applies a strict version of Sunni Islam and bans women from driving or travelling without the consent of a male guardian.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom welcomed the move, but Amnesty International on Monday said the decision was overdue had not gone far enough.

Gurirab, however, said the decision was a "major step".

"King Abdullah's has come around and done the right thing by saying that the door would also be open for women to participate in the politics of the country, to be nominated, to serve on the Shura -- the consultative parliament -- and that they will be visible in government.

"But that now that that commitment has been announced, we will be monitoring the evolution in terms of policy, action and implementation," and the IPU was ready to send assistance if desired, he said.

Gurirab recognized, however, that there was a difference between the laws on the books and its implementation.

"The road to democratization is a long, tortuous and zigzagging road," he said

"I spent a better part of my youth in the United States, and they are the first one to say that they have not quite reached the democracy that they" are aiming for, Gurirab explained.

"The first catholic president was elected when I was there ... we now have the first black president, we still do not have the first woman president," he said.

Saudi Arabia's move, Gurirab explained, was "a beginning ...a step in the right direction."

He said that even in his part of the world, which has high levels of participation of women in politics, "there is a long way for us to go".

Changes, he said, will be measured by women "increasingly being appointed "as ministers, prime ministers, vice presidents, speakers..."

But, "as (IPU) president and as speaker of the parliament of my own country, I would like to say to the king of Saudi Arabia, 'congratulations'," Gurirab concluded.

© 2011 AFP

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