The second test run of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) results management system yesterday passed the test despite few technical hitches later rectified based on input from information technology experts.
Yesterday’s developments at the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections’ national tally centre at the Chichiri International Conference Centre, widely known as Comesa Hall, in Blantyre were a relief to the electoral body after network glitches marred the first exercise last week.
During the exercise, sample results for the three elections—Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government—were transmitted from all the 193 constituencies and 462 wards nationwide.
Transmission of the results started at 9.30am and, unlike in the previous dry run test, there was improved speed in the system which saw results being transmitted within minutes.
Transmitted figures were interpreted in the form of graphs and pie charts that showed percentages of the total votes at that particular time together with the number of centres that sent the results.
The figures were also transmitted together with scanned documents of the registered results by hand at the particular centres. The scanned documents are for auditing purposes of the results as well as transparency.
By close of the exercise at 12.35pm, in the presidential election, there were 162 constituencies out of the total 193 that had sent the results, representing 83.94 percent.
In the parliamentary elections, there were also 162 constituencies out of 193, representing a similar 83.94 percent.
For Local Government elections, 367 wards out of 462 had transmitted their results, representing 79.44 percent.
In an interview, MEC commissioner Jean Mathanga, who chairs the electoral services committee, said the commission is confident that all will be well on polling day.
Following MEC’s first dry run held on May 2, ICT Association of Malawi (Ictam) observed that there were some issues the electoral body needed to address, including use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, deployment of independent auditors and clarity on the part of some centres.
But Mathanga yesterday said MEC had addressed those issues as they took them into consideration for a smooth voting process.
She said the process of recruiting auditors is at an advanced stage and that on Wednesday (tomorrow) or Thursday, the auditors will undergo orientation sessions before their deployment.
In an interview at the national tally centre, People’s Party (PP) director of campaign Lawrence Bisika expressed satisfaction with the process, saying it has enhanced his party’s confidence in the elections.
On his part, a Malawi Congress Party (MCP) shadow member of Parliament (MP) for Zomba Ntonya, Mphatso Banda, also expressed satisfaction with the dry run test.
Officials present at the national tally centre included MEC commissioners and African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) observers.
During the first dry run tests conducted on May 2, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) chief technical adviser on elections Richard Cox, said UNDP is supporting MEC to ensure that transmission runs smoothly come May 21.
Two presidential candidates, notably incumbent President Peter Mutharika of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Vice-President Saulos Chilima of UTM Party, have repeatedly raised vote rigging fears, but MEC has dismissed the fears.
In Zomba, MEC also held a dry test run in all its 10 constituency tally centres. Out of the 10, the test failed at Chimwalira Teacher Development Centre (TDC) in Zomba Thondwe Constituency where the transmission failed to take place.
There were no CCTV cameras in all centres.
In Lilongwe, Chimutu TDC tally centre in Lilongwe City Centre opened in time for the dry test run, but a two-hour network hiccup prevented the centre from conducting the exercise.
Constituency returning officer Chrissy Bondo said in an interview that the congestion could have been caused when the centre sent results of 20 polling centres at once.
She said: “The process is that from the station, results are verified by monitors then these will be sent to the constituency tally centre where an auditor will check the results again in front of monitors before they are transmitted [to the national tally centre].”
In Mzuzu, the electoral body conducted a successful exercise, transmitting test results to main tally centre in Blantyre without network glitches.
Besides a smooth network, MEC also placed an independent auditor to verify and document everything that was happening in results capturing and transmission centres.
Surprisingly, there were no representatives from political parties in the Northern Region, especially as Mzuzu is huge with 15 wards and just one constituency.
In an interview after the exercise, Mzuzu City Constituency returning officer Rebecca Chirwa expressed satisfaction with the process.
(Additional reporting by SUZGO KHUNGA, Assistant Bureau Chief in Lilongwe and HOLYCE KHOLOWA, Correspondent)