Peaceful, transparent and credible elections: A key event for the Democratic Republic of Congo


Angolan UNITA presidential candidate Isaias Samakuva campaignImagen: ISS Today

In recent months, political tensions and insecurity have increased in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), due to demonstrations against the continuousness of Joseph Kabila in power. And although the political attention, both national and international, continues to focus on confidence-building measures and on the advances toward the electoral process on December 23, credibility in the authorities and in the electoral process continues to deteriorate.

Note: This blog always is in favor of the implementation of technology aimed at improving elections, but such a crucial endeavor must follow certain rules and be done correctly from the start. Experience teaches us that when such a project starts from a slanted or rigged selection or tender, results are never satisfactory.

Issues such as having electoral registration data manipulated, excuses of alleged difficulties in registering the Congolese living abroad, and the hiring –with no previous bidding-  of voting machines from South Korean Miru System Ltd, a company without any significant and verifiable experience, are some of the concerns that the main opposition leaders have recently denounced, casting doubts over carrying out a transparent electoral process, which has been twice postponed since 2016, and was again postponed in 2017.

In February Nikki Haley, the US ambassador before the United Nations, declared: “Introducing an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk”, referring to the introduction of voting machines from the South Korean company Miru, which have not been used in previous elections in other countries. In addition, the company is under investigation by its own country’s authorities for alleged cases of bribery through the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB). According to several notes in countries where A-WEB operates, this association disguises the sale of voting machines provided by Miru under supposed training and consulting services to electoral commissions.

In the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the National Election Commission of South Korea (NEC) itself expressed concern over the use of Miru’s voting machines during the December presidential elections. In a statement to the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante , CENI), NEC voiced serious concerns about the introduction (of these machines), stating that the unstable political situation and a vulnerable environment, which includes a high illiteracy rate, a weak electrical infrastructure, and deplorable road conditions, can lead to machine malfunctions.

As a result, the political opposition of the Democratic Republic of Congo has requested South Korea and the USA the suspension of the contract that links the Independent National Electoral Commission of the DRC with Miru System, and the blocking of its bank accounts.

The DRC is one of the most volatile and complex regions of Africa, however, achieving peace and balance could contribute to the stability and development of the African continent, says Said Djinniten, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the region. of Central Africa. The government representatives of countries such as the USA, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and South Korea have also expressed their concerns in recognizing that carrying out peaceful, transparent and credible elections in the DRC represents a key point in the direction of the African continent.

That is why CENI, the DRC electoral commission, must work adroitly to ensure that both voting and counting are carried out smoothly. The implementation of technology could (and should) among other things improve voter registration, allow citizens to vote from abroad, facilitate the voting process, swiftly provide reliable preliminary results, and allow multiple audits that furnish tranquility and confidence to citizens. Let’s hope that the accusations and the fears about Miru are more about the mistakes for their hiring (in several countries already) and not about the performance of their technology.

 

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Preliminary count in El Salvador calms the waters


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Several weeks have passed since El Salvador headed to the polls to elect 168 congress seats and 262 municipal councils and no official results have been announced. Yet the overall political climate remains calmed thanks in part to the preliminary results announced by the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) on March 5, the day after the elections.

El Salvador has an extremely complex manual voting system. A 2015 reform allowed voters to assign 0.5 to different candidates making the tallying process much more cumbersome. Given this important change, TSE decided to utilize technology to help poll center operators generate timely preliminary results.

For this preliminary count, TSE tested the Korean scanners and software from MIRU, which were used to digitize and transmit the voting records, and the software and services of the multinational Smartmatic to process said records and publish the results in real-time. The use of technology proved successful as it has helped generate peace of mind among Salvadorians (and their political parties) while the TSE finalizes the official count.

Election Day saw no major incidents. The web publication system allowed the TSE to announce voting trends per political party (number of deputies) the same night of the election. These trends were first shown online at 8:00 pm. However, during the preliminary count there was a failure that affected the votes for legislators in two of the 15 departments – San Salvador and La Libertad. Smartmatic’s Director for Central America, Francisco Campos, explained that “a tiny piece of software failed to capture the candidates’ names, and placed them at random”. Thanks to technology and the real-time publication of results, the inconsistency was made evident and quickly solved. Political parties and citizens were able to audit results by contrasting tallying reports with the website.

Despite the fact that the failure corrected on time, and that political parties had all the evidence on their hands to corroborate the accuracy of the results published online, some political parties reacted against the modernization of future elections. The error was acknowledged and corrected thanks to technology; nonetheless, these parties have begun a campaign to pedal back the progress made by El Salvador towards improving their voting system.

Leandro Querido, an election expert who leads the NGO analyzed what transpired on social media, pointing that “opposing the incorporation of technology in electoral processes is reactionary, but above all, ludicrous. What happened in El Salvador was an error in the manual entries to the provisional results, which was detected by the technology itself and quickly solved thanks to it”.

El Salvador needs to make the best of what happened, learn from the experience and continue modernizing its voting system by relying on technology.

Vices and failures of manual voting set Honduras on fire


On Sunday, November 26th Honduras conducted general elections. Sadly, after nine days of counting, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) has not been able to declare a winner due to several failures in their processing of the votes.

Given the tight margin between the most voted candidates (1.5% of the voter roll) and the great number fraud claims and irregularities (e.g. numerical inconsistencies, problems with loading the tally), the TSE is carrying out a recount that has delayed the process for over a week and triggered a political earthquake.

This episode shows clearly, once again, the obsolescence of the Honduran voting system, and how manual voting can delay the publication in results and hurt the credibility of institutions.

To make matters worse, violence took hold in several regions of the country, leading authorities to decree a curfew. Deaths, looting, vehicles set ablaze, unrest and all forms of protest went on for days, creating a dire prognosis for the stability of Honduran democracy.

A sequence of unfortunate events

The poor performance of manual counting was visible from the early hours of the process on, when the Supreme Electoral Court announced they could not communicate the result of the count because of insufficient information. Immediately after, two of the candidates – president Juan Orlando Hernández and Salvador Nasralla– proclaimed themselves as winners, opening the floodgates.

The first data came almost 48 hours after the voting closed, after a slow count of less than 60% of the ballots which, far from clearing the air, only made matters worse.

In the following days, a series of situations took place casting even more doubt. For instance, after the first bulletin, in which opposition candidate Nasralla had a lead of almost 5 points on Hernández, the TSE page stopped updating for almost 36 hours; when it came back online, the result had reverted.

Right after, another technical failure on the Electoral Court website stopped the publication of results, and from then on, distrust was total for Nasralla, his supporters and a good section of the electorate.

Nasralla accuses the ruling party of having committed fraud, and states that 5,173 polling centre counts show the irregularities that are robbing him of victory. To explain how the count was altered, he requested an audience with the observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS).

This request opens a new chapter for Honduras. Elections are over and the count is too, but the electoral process is still ongoing, waiting for the proclamation of the winner.

For now, the TSE is defending its voting model, but let us remember that some months ago there was a scandal that tarnished the system for Preliminary Results Transmission (Trep) and the Integrated System for Vote Counting and Results Publishing (Siede). The former oversees the telephone transmission of manual counts to a tally centre; the latter allows for the scanning and online transmission of certified voting returns.

Both models have been used for several years: Trep since 2009 and Siade since 2012, presenting several issues and sowing mistrust. However, this year, information came to light about the origin of the contracts subscribed by the TSE and companies such as Mapa Soluciones, Geotech and Corporación Majo, which violate the minimum norms for transparency and legality for the award of public contracts.

In face of the accusations, and after what happened in the November 26th general elections, it is clear that transparency in electoral matters is precarious in Honduras. The country faces a decisive moment: they can either purge the management of their public contracts and transform their voting model, or permanently hurt the credibility of electoral authorities and public trust.