Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) is tomorrow carrying out the first ever dry test run of the results management system as one way of building trust and allaying fears of manipulation of poll results.
But Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is sceptical that the test will serve its intended purpose, claiming that MEC wanted to justify weaknesses that might be encountered on polling day.
In a press statement yesterday, MEC chief elections officer Sam Alfandika said the commission envisages some problems in some centres and would want the test to help them address the challenges before May 21.
“Issues to do with congestion over the network and possibility of unlawful access to the network will be critically assessed during this test,” he said.
During the exercise, MEC will place staff and equipment in all the constituency tally centres and also set up a testing main tally centre in Blantyre where all electoral stakeholders have been invited.
“The polling equipment staff will be given sample results to be used for the purpose of the test transmission from the constituency tally centres to the main tally centre,” reads the statement.
MEC adds that a second targeted test will be run again before polling day only for the constituency tally centres where challenges may be encountered during the first test run.
MEC insists the test is not meant to remove fears of rigging as has been claimed by some presidential candidates.
Two presidential candidates, UTM Party’s torchbearer and Vice-President Saulos Chilima and President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have on separate occasions accused each other of planning to rig the May 21 elections, the fear that MEC has allayed on several occasions.
Mutharika went to the extent of pointing fingers at telecommunication companies, TNM plc and Airtel Malawi, of complicity in the rigging, a claim both have dismissed.
MCP is also on record as having expressed fear that the results will be rigged following the loss of the biometric voter registration equipment that was later found on a train in Mozambique last year.
In a separate interview, MEC spokesperson Sangwani Mwafulirwa said: “We will be testing our system to be sure that it will work perfectly during polling and results transmission. It has not been motivated by rigging allegations. There is no way we can go to polling without testing how the system works. The test will also give our equipment operators a feel of how it will be on polling day.”
MCP publicity secretary the Rev Maurice Munthali, however, sounded unconvinced on whether the electoral body is conducting the exercise in good faith, saying the electorate had little trust in MEC because of a number of irregularities registered in its handling of election results in 2014.
He said: “As MCP, it is our hope and prayer that MEC will be on top of things. They should not do this just to test waters because we can believe that they themselves have already tested the system. We believe that the only thing that is now remaining is that they want to assure Malawians that the system is efficient.
“Let MEC not portray a picture as if they and Malawians are going to test the system together when they might have already done that. That will be scary because we only have three weeks before polls and they should not begin listing down weaknesses that we are going to encounter.”
Justifying his sentiment, Munthali said Malawi opted for biometric system in 2014;hence, the system should have already been tested and challenges addressed by now.
But UTM Party publicity secretary Joseph Chidanti Malunga commended the initiative, saying it would enable them to understand how the system will work on polling day.
He said fears that elections would be rigged were not with UTM Party alone but people in general.
“Everything to do with elections should be interesting because we have to be part of all the processes so that we should understand what is going on. We have received that communication from MEC and we have been requested to have a representative at the tally centre as well as the main tally centres. We are going to do that to see how the system is going to work,” he said.
DPP publicity secretary Nicholas Dausi, who is also the Minister for Homeland Security, acknowledged being invited to the exercise.
“It [the test] is extremely important and we have to be there so that there is verification for transparency, accountability and fairness,” he said.
Malawi Electoral Support Network (Mesn) chairperson Steve Duwa said the dry test run is a response to the National Elections Consultative Forum (Necof) which made the resolution after 2014 polls that MEC should embrace some of non-legislative reforms that include testing the equipment and systems before use.
“The idea of testing the system emanates from the discussions stakeholders had after the 2014 elections. One of the issues that were agreed upon was that the issue of results management system should be inspected before voting. MEC is simply implementing what was agreed upon that time. I do not think they are doing it because of fears of rigging,” he said
Duwa appealed to political parties and civil society organisations to attend the activity to understand how the system is going to work during the polling day.
In the 2014 elections analysis report by Chancellor College historian Wiseman Chijere Chirwa and Catholic University of Malawi political analyst Nandin Patel noted that the results management and online transmission system which was designed to check arithmetical errors did not work due to a number of factors that included inadequate training of the field staff.
However, Mwafulirwa said people should not panic if challenges are encountered because that will give room for rectification before polling day. n