Starting with the 2018 Presidential elections, electoral database expert, Jonathan Seke Mavinga developed a software which helped clean voter lists to prevent multiple registrations and illegal voting by minors. He also set up a system which allowed the 119 districts of Madagascar to handle votes more easily and feed them into a centralised database at the national election commission in the capital of Antananarivo.
“The system allowed us to centralise the data that came in from the districts, to compare the results with the protocols from the polling stations and correct mistakes”, Mavinga says.
The system allows the national election commission to transmit results faster than in previous elections. Mavinga has also trained presidential candidates and political party representatives on how the system works and which security measures are in place, to increase their confidence in the system and the election results.
“It was a challenge to get this accepted by the Malagacy actors, who have the power to decide whether or not the system should be used. Earlier, the election process has been very much a manual process, but we have digitalised it. It was not evident that everyone would accept this, and some were resistant to the change, but in the end, it worked”, Mavinga says.
Up until the last Presidential election, Madagascar’s political scene had been one of unpredictability, suspicion and criticism between the candidates and protests from dissatisfied voters. Although the elections in late 2018, and the recent legislative elections in May this year have been calmer and raised less criticism, the public does not have a lot of trust in their representatives.
The May legislative elections saw a disappointingly low turn-out of less than 30 percent, despite targeted work from the authorities, the UN and electoral organisations to increase people’s engagement.
“The people of Madagascar are not used to having politicians who work for them. They generally see politics as something dirty”, says Eva Palmans, Representative for the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) in Madagascar.
Despite being rich in natural resources, Madagascar is one of the few countries that did not achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals.
According to the UNDP, less than 3 percent of the national budget is spent outside of the capital, Antananarivo. The island is generally over-looked, by not only its politicians, but also the international community.
“It does not have a strategic position in terms of international politics, and there is no conflict, humanitarian crises or neighbouring countries, which means they do not get much attention or influence from the outside”, says Marie Dimond, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Madagascar.
Working to increase trust
According to Dimond, they have worked with government institutions, civil society organisations and political parties to get them to talk to each other and reduce the conflict level.
“It also helped that international donors, the European Union, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, were interested and kept an eye on the situation”, she says.
After the first round of the presidential elections, the candidates had a lot of questions concerning numbers, lists and results. Dimond says SACEM went out of their way to prove to people that the results were legitimate, and incorporated some of the changes suggested by the political participants.
“The slightest sign of irregularity will be used to criticise the process and the system. We arranged for an independent audit of the software Jonathan had developed, which concluded that it was transparent and reliable”, she says.
“The tools that Jonathan has created are essentially warranties for the political actors, and for the candidates to accept the results. If the voters’ lists are not reliable, it increases the risk of fake voters. If the results from the polling stations are not integrated, the result may not be legitimate. These tools help increase people’s confidence in the voting process”, says Flavien Mbayahe Misoni, UNDP Chief Technical Adviser at SACEM.
Mavinga is one of the first election assistance deployments directly supporting a national election commission, done by NORCAP’s programme on democratisation and human rights, NORDEM.
The deployment is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who initiated this particular assistance.
“It is a good investment to make sure elections in Madagascar are done correctly, because if not, it could result in a political crisis, which often have other, far-reaching social and economic implications”, says Johan Kristian Meyer, the Norwegian Minister Counsellor to Madagascar.
He says NORCAP and the NORDEM programme was chosen because the specific competency and knowledge needed for such an assignment is not always available locally or through the UN system.
“NORCAP has a global network and you managed to find a Congolese man with the right competency and language skills. He is highly praised by his colleagues here in Madagascar and I believe some of the reason these past two elections have been calmer is in some part due to the work he has done”, Meyer says.
Increased election assistance
Mavinga is one of the first NORDEM experts working on election assistance. Traditionally, NORDEM has provided election observers as their main support to national elections, but Project Manager Anne Sofie Molandsveen says they are now looking to expand the election assistance. The main focus will be building local capacity and following-up on recommendations from the election observation missions.
“It is important to expand the focus on elections beyond Election Day. We need to take the whole electoral cycle into account and offer assistance at an early stage, preferably one or two years ahead of the elections”, she says.
In this case, Muvinga has been in Antananarivo since June 2018 and worked closely with the National Independent Electoral Commission, allowing him to develop a system adapted to the specific needs in Madagascar. He and his colleagues at the CENI has also developed a solid team spirit that help them perform on Election Day.
Additionally, Molandsveen says it is important to make use of the valuable recommendations made by international election observation missions.
"The independent assessment of the observers results in a set of concrete recommendations to the national authorities on how to improve the electoral processes. While it is predominantly the responsibility of the country observed to take on and implement the recommendations, the donor community can also use these recommendations to target their aid and assist the country in its democratic endeavours", she says.
“It is our ambitions to bridge the gap between the work of the election observers and the work of electoral assistance and make active use of these recommendations when we develop electoral assistance programmes in cooperation with national authorities”, says Anne Sofie Molandsveen.