Political statements have been made that the 2014 tripartite elections were rigged in favour of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and its leader President Peter Mutharika.
The claims have come from not one person or institution.
But the question is: Is it indeed true that the elections were rigged? Should Malawians take those claims seriously? Or they are the usual political sentiments which politicians utter to gain political mileage? The latter is the right answer.
Soon after the 2014 elections results were announced, Malawi Congress Party challenged the results in court and they did not win the case. Despite the court’s dismissal of the case, some people still feel that the elections were rigged.
Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) was hit left and right and accused of favouring DPP. Tempers flared. Lives of MEC commissioners were in danger. But the results did not change.
So, were the MEC results credible? Absolutely yes. The cooperating partners especially those that are familiar with Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) were the first to accept the results after they were validated by the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN). MESN had mounted a parallel centre called PVT Centre at Mount Soche hotel in Blantyre. The PVT initiative was
funded by the United Kingdom government through the Department for International Development (DfID) to the tune of US$600 000. This was the second time that MESN had mounted a PVT centre.
The results produced from the PVT validated those from Malawi Electoral Commission. Thus President Mutharika got 36.40 percent of the national vote while Malawi Congress Party president Lazarus Chakwera 27.80 percent and Joyce Banda of Peoples Party 20.20 percent Atupele Muluzi of United Democratic Front 13.70 percent. The rest of the presidential
candidates got less than one percent.
The then British High Commissioner to Malawi, Michael Nevin visited MESN PVT Centre and was briefed of the results and accepted them. He did so because he knew the power of PVT.
MEC got relief after the validation of MESN. Some of those that accused MEC of rigging the elections began to accept the results because of that validation. And former MEC Chair, the late Justice Mackson Mbendera thanked MESN for validating the results saying MESN tried to diffuse the political tension that was there.
PVT is becoming more prevalent during elections and it can help verification of election results. It involves observation of the voting and counting of ballots at the polling stations, collection of official polling station results and independent tabulation of these results, parallel to the election authorities.
It is often used interchangeably with the term Quick Count. It has been carried out in elections all over the world including Albania, Bangladesh, Balarus, Burundi, Indonesia, Georgia, Kenya, Macedonia, Slovakia, Mozambique, Peru and Ukraine, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi among others.
National Democratic Institute, which helped MESN to set up the PVT in Malawi, has assisted civic groups in over 50 countries to perform over 200 PVTs to oversee their election processes.
PVT uses a sample to come up with the presidential results.
Statistical principles drive the methodology for collecting and analyzing data. This method is grounded in broadly accepted
scientific principles. These statistical principles are not just a matter of opinion or open to partisan interpretation, they are demonstrable and universally accepted.
The PVT methodology allows a group to demonstrate why election day processes can be considered fair, or the extent to which they have been fair.
MESN set up PVT for the 2014 elections because, among others, it was the first time the country had tripartite elections and as such, the elections were going to be competitive and in that case, usually results are disputed by losing candidates and political parties. So, PVT removed uncertainty by independently validating the official presidential election results. PVT results also
increased public confidence in the final results by MEC hence reducing potentials of political violence.
PVT can effectively diffuse the tension around an election time through rapid release of information on the conduct of the polls.
Using SMS technology to transmit first-hand information on poll conduct, releases real time information to the central database and election stakeholders. The speed of transmitting information through PVT also means that votes can be calculated instantaneously, and the release of the official presidential vote counts by the MEC can be immediately verified.
In 2009 elections, the national estimates from the PVT closely matched the official results as announced by the MEC. All of the estimates were of the same magnitude as the official results and the official results for the two largest vote winners (which represent over 96 percent of all votes) fall within the 95 percent confidence interval. This provided very strong evidence that the
national tabulation process was conducted properly and that the official results reflected how citizens voted on the election day.
MESN PVT projected that DPP got 66.50 percent votes compared to the MEC official results of 65.98 percent. MESN’s estimates for DPP was extremely accurate and well within their margin of error (+/-1.8% confidence level 95%).
And again in 2009, MEC thanked MESN for validating its results.: “An innovation by one local observer, MESN, was the introduction of statistical methods to monitor polling and estimate election results on the basis of a sample of 800 out of 6774 polling streams. The MESN used the polling stream as the sampling unit and the sample was selected using single stage cluster sampling. The results of MESN confirmed those of the Electoral Commission. In addition, MESN was able to collect additional information on preparations at the polling stream and other polling related characteristics,” –Malawi Electoral Commission, Parliamentary and Presidential Elections May 2009 Report.
So, 2014 elections were not rigged as they were independently validated by MESN through Parallel Vote Tabulation.