Malawi will in this year’s elections slated for May 20, use the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) system meant to improve efficiency. Being a fairly new concept to Malawi elections, EPHRAIM NYONDO talks to Deogratias M’mana, public and media relations officer for Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn), on why Malawi needs the system.
Q: Briefly, explain, in simple language, what is Parallel Vote Tabulation?
A: It is a proven methodology that allows non-partisan citizen observers to systematically assess the quality of voting and counting processes—and on that basis to accurately project voting outcomes and verify official election results. Because the PVT methodology deploys observers to a representative random sample of polling stations, the data that they collect can be used to formulate an accurate estimate of the election’s results on a national scale.
We must emphasise here that Mesn will conduct PVT for presidential elections results only. But that does not mean that we have ignored the parliamentary and local government elections. We have Long Term Observation project which will also deploy observers across the country to monitor such elections.
Q: What is it that you have noted as gaps in previous elections that justifies why we should have it in this year’s tripartite elections?
A: No gaps were detected in the 2009 elections. In fact, PVT in the 2009 elections gave similar presidential results as Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) and the electoral body was impressed. In its final elections report for 2009, MEC acknowledged the role played by Mesn in observing the elections and the use of the PVT methodology.
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 election day.
Q: How will it work so that it does not confuse Malawians at the time of announcing elections result?
A: Mesn fully recognises the role of MEC in managing elections in Malawi. It will put in all necessary measures that will make the PVT process credible and achieve its goal of validating official election results as announced by MEC. Mesn also recognises that it is only MEC that is legally mandated to announce official results. Soon after Mesn comes up with the results, the chairperson will take the results to MEC chairperson and compare them. Mesn will conduct a press conference soon after MEC announces its results and release its results. It must be emphasised here that Mesn PVT is aimed at validating MEC official results; hence, Mesn will have to wait for MEC results and validate them. Some players wonder why Mesn will not announce unofficial results as the counting is in progress. That can be done with a parallel tally centre and not PVT.
Q: Which countries in Africa have used PVT and what is its rate of success?
A: PVTs have recently made significant contributions to the integrity and security of elections in the following countries: Ghana (2012 and 2008), Kenya (2010 and 2013), Malawi (2009), Nigeria (2011 and 2012), Uganda (2011), Zambia (2008 and 2011) and Zimbabwe (2013).
Q: It must have some weaknesses. What are these and what measures have you put in place to contain them?
A: I would not say there are weaknesses because PVT uses the science of mathematics. Because the PVT methodology deploys observers to a representative random sample of polling stations, the data that they collect can be used to formulate an accurate estimate of the election’s results on a national scale. What I would say is that there is need for us to reach out to many stakeholders to understand what PVT is all about. We are currently meeting electoral stakeholders across the country so that they understand what we shall be doing. There is also a misconception from some stakeholders who mistake PVT for Parallel Tally Centre (PTC). They think we shall conduct a PTC and so announce unofficial results before MEC. We shall conduct PVT with the aim of validating MEC official results. Anybody wishing to challenge MEC after announcement of the results may do so using our official results as evidence. But we are sure that our results will be like those of MEC.
Q: Anything you would want to add?
A: PVT will remove uncertainty by independently validating the official presidential election results. It will increase public confidence in well-run elections and reduce potentials for political violence. It will identify shortcomings and provide an objective basis for seeking peaceful redress and making specific improvements in the process. Further, it will produce statistically reliable and valid data on which to base an assessment. The deployment of observers and their reports are not biased in any way. Observation efforts that allow observers to go wherever it is convenient often produce biased data. I need also to underscore that the main focus of PVT is on election day and therefore, it is not concerned with events prior to election day.