Inside EU observer report on Malawi elections: An inference

The European Union Elections Observer Mission (EU EOM) team is expected to present a final report on the controversial 2019 elections. In order to anticipate the contents of the final report, Mallick Mnela combed through the initial report and analyzed earlier findings of the Mission as presented on 23rd May, 2019. He establishes that if the EU Observer Mission Report is mirrored by the Preliminary Report, findings may be damning. He finds out that the Observer Mission had unearthed some irregularities, just that they were wrapped in diplomatic language that falls short of calling a spade by its name.

EU observer mission

Key Findings in the Preliminary Report:

59% of sampled polling stations had problems reconciling ballots

50% of sampled polling stations had problems completing results forms

46.8% of sampled polling stations did not comply with proper procedures

News that the European Union Observer Mission – (EU EOM) will be in the country to present their final report on last year’s disputed May 21 elections has created anxiety among some citizens as they wonder what could be contained in the report.

To help you manage the anxiety, I took the initiative to read through the EU EOM preliminary report released on 23rd May, 2019 to infer from it what could be the probable headlines after the final report is released.

Basically, whenever Malawi is going to the polls, the European Union (EU) sends an Election Observer Mission (EOM) at the invitation of the government.

In carrying out its mandate, the Mission follows an established methodology and adheres to the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation endorsed at the United Nations in October 2005.

The EU EOM assesses the whole electoral process against the laws of host country and also its international obligations and commitments in relation to elections.

During their assignment last year, the EU Observer Mission stayed in Malawi from 4 April to 19 June. They issued a preliminary report on 23rd May that highlighted observations made during the period. Without being conclusive, the mission left, promising to keenly continue to follow the subsequent, post-election developments.

EU EOM Noted Anomalies: Preliminary Report

The preliminary statement, released last year, reads:

“This preliminary statement of the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) is delivered before the completion of the entire electoral process. Critical stages remain, including tabulation of results and adjudication of petitions. The EU EOM is now only in a position to comment on observation undertaken to date, and will later publish a final report, including full analysis and recommendations for reforms. The EU EOM may also make additional statements on election-related matters as and when it considers it appropriate.”

Just so we are together, let me show you some more excerpts.

On overall polls, the preliminary report noted:

“A well-managed voting process overall. Counting at polling stations was transparent but challenged by poor conditions and poor adherence to procedures.”

The preliminary report also noted problems as follows:

“Problems with ballot reconciliation and in completing the results forms were noted in 19 and 16 respectively out of 32 polling stations observed. The proper procedures were not followed in 15 out of 32 polling stations where EU EOM teams observed. Furthermore, there were the problems with the results sheets which impacted on the tallying process in some areas.

The preliminary report did not declare the election “free and fair”.

Similarly, going through the African Union Observer Mission report, the same trait emerges, the phrase “free and fair” was not used.

Similarly, the leader of the Commonwealth Observer team, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, at that time, said the election was well-managed but that it was premature to declare it fair.

The AU report (See Here) was also issued while vote counting was underway.

It reads, in part :

“While the tabulation of results is still ongoing, the AUEOM hereby concludes that the 2019 Tripartite Elections have provided Malawians with the opportunity to choose their leaders at various layers of government in accordance with the legal framework for elections in Malawi, and in accordance with the principles espoused in the various instruments of the AU. The elections took place in a peaceful environment and at the time of this statement, the mission had not noted any serious concerns with the process, either witnessed or observed.”

The above quotes show that the reports immediately issued after polling are tentative and do not represent a comprehensive picture of the process.

The EU EOM went ahead and promised to return with a detailed report until almost immediately, court action started.

In the recent days, I have been obsessed with Kenya’s disputed elections. It offers a number of applicable precedents that multiple stakeholders can draw lessons from here at home.

In the Nairobi context, election monitors, tasked with assessing the conduct of an election process as an independent party, were deployed as per standard practice.

Observers were drawn from the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the Commonwealth Nations, and the United States-based Carter Center.

Ironically, all these players endorsed the results of the disputed Kenyan presidential elections, a position that was later to be rubbished by the Supreme Court of that country.

Imagine, former US secretary of state John Kerry, head of the Carter Center’s mission, had applauded the process as “free, fair and credible” despite “little aberrations here and there.”

He took to Twitter later on to try and save face from the gaffe he and many other observers had made. In the wake of the court ruling suggesting otherwise, Kenya offered an invaluable lesson to Observer Missions.

Mbeki, Kerry and Nkosazana Dhlamini – Zuma in Kenya

The main lessons that “belittling” of anomalies in the voting process should never be entertained. One vote discounted is too much injustice in a democracy.

The voting process is broad, looking at the electoral calendar or the cycle. However, rigging or cheating can happen at the very tail end of the process well after closing polling stations at which point most Observer Missions are back at their hotels, compiling their preliminary reports or at the COMESA Hall, to witness the inflow of results.

Additionally, the observers will visit centers at random. For example, the 83-member strong EU EOM to Malawi led by Chief Observer, Miroslav Poche, visited 342 polling stations across 120 constituencies in 27 of the 28 Districts of Malawi to observe voting and counting.

As noted earlier, the EU’s EOM preliminary outcome was that the voting process was, overall, well-managed. However, the team noted “poor conditions” and “poor adherence to procedures”.

What is not clear in the preliminary report is if, for example, the issue of “poor adherence to procedures” amounts to “irregularities” or “aberrations” that go on to suggest potentially serious flaws in the electoral process.

From a semantic point of view, regulations are set rules and procedures that must be complied with at all times. In case of polls, such regulations may be in the interest of fairness, for example. If someone breaches the set regulations, he or she is said to have committed an irregularity or, irregularities, as the case may be.

We heard political players from across the political divides making claims that included alleged of use of unsigned and fake tally forms, allegations of hacked servers, ghost users, suspicious use of tippex and deliberate miscounting.

It would be very interesting to hear how the report defines and categorizes these, if at all they were noted in centers visited and singled out among the sampled 32 polling stations.

If not, still, it would be interesting to note if a well-managed voting process characterized by poor conditions and poor “adherence to procedures” can fit in as free and fair.

By saying “poor adherence to procedures”, I infer from the initial report that there was some failure to follow the rules and regulations.

There is some suspense created by the preliminary report. I am curious to find out to what extent was the poor adherence? How could it have negatively impacted on the vote outcome? Which are the centers or candidates affected?

“The tallying of results continues and it is clear that problems with results sheets are causing challenges. We will continue to follow this critical part of the process prior to making our final assessment. Chief Observer POCHE, presenting the EUEOM Preliminary Statement

View image on Twitter

From among the 342 centers visited, the Mission reported that ballot reconciliation was done in only 19 centers out of 32 polling stations. 16 polling stations visited by the Observer Mission properly completed the results forms out of 32 polling centers visited while 15 out of 32 polling stations did not comply with some regulations.

Going through the EU EOM preliminary report, I noted that it made what could be termed a “damning conclusion”. But this became clearer upon crunching the numbers provided.

By my calculations, this implies that the preliminary report revealed the following:

  • 59% of sampled polling stations had problems reconciling ballots
  • 50% of sampled polling stations had problems completing results forms
  • 46.8% of sampled polling stations did not comply with proper procedures

The 12-page report was cautiously and diplomatically framed, possibly, to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to the gravity of the anomalies without due process.

When monitoring elections in non-EU countries such as Malawi, representatives are required to ensure credibility and political sensitivity.

The presentation of the EU Observer Mission final report will, therefore, go a long way in providing an opportunity for the mission to clarify these findings with some nuance, and, possibly, explain their probable implications to the voter whose interest they came to serve.

Just as we saw the observer mission make reference to “problems with tally sheets in some areas” or “poor adherence to procedures” in the preliminary report, it would be very interesting if the report finally highlights the extent of these anomalies.

It would also be interesting to hear if the observer mission thinks the problems observed during the country’s elections were serious enough to taint the vote outcome.

I think it is unlikely that the report will be blunt, for avoidance of political sensitivity. I expect it to be characterized by diplomatic language, leaving readers to their own devices.

As the Observer Mission arrives to present the report, my curiosity will largely center on the following:

The preliminary report stated that the process was well-managed, but, at the same time, stated that 59% of sampled 32 polling centers had problems reconciling ballots, 50% had problems completing results forms and 46.8% did not comply with proper procedures. Is the EU Observer Mission not contradicting itself? Would this, for all intent and purposes, amount to a well-managed election?

Last but not least, I stand in shame that these aberrations were not spotted from when they were first reported.

Perhaps blaming the EU Observer Mission for being subtly and overly diplomatic in their initial report would be asking for too much.

The preliminary report was issued. The media, political parties, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and political scientists did not care to read the report with an analytical eye to spot the anomalies highlighted. Or if they did, they failed to escalate the matter for appropriate scrutiny.

As the final report finally comes, there is need to open eyes. As to whether the report will be of any consequence, that’s a matter of time!

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M'Malawi Weniweni
M'Malawi Weniweni
3 years ago

The author of the news item must know that irregularities in Malawi elections has a technical meaning: Non Adherence to the electoral law.
Procedures are developed by MEC to implement the law and the commission can determine whether non-adherence is material or not.

On different note, presence of international observations teams is provided for in our electoral law.

3 years ago

Electoral findings cannot be based on sampling. For example, what sampling methods did you use? In electrons what matters is factual findings osati za reasonable assurance zanuzo. All the way from Europe with idiotic report.

Reginald Oliver Nakhumwa
Reginald Oliver Nakhumwa
3 years ago

On the other hand without them demos could not have taken place. For your info govt was afraid to handle the demos with heavy handedness. Without them the ground could not have been levelled.

3 years ago

This is just so sad. Why are these people so up on Africa. No foreign nations go to their countries to observe their elections. They really think we are not competent enough. Shame on our leaders, how can they allow these Europeans to oversee our affairs. No other foreign nation would dare monitor elections and write reports in a European country. These are imperialist. We should be chasing these Babylonians out of our countries let alone from having a stake in our affairs. African child, UKUONA? Stand up in your black skin and your role for the oppressors continue with… Read more »

Nyikaland Soldier until we are free from slavery
Reply to  Limma


When you don’t have food you appeal to Europeans. When you fight among yourselves you appeal to Europeans, When HIV is destroying you it is an European who helps you. Today he is bad. You must be nuts in your skull.

3 years ago

Very fair analysis. What we need is a discerning mind to squeeze out the juice from such diplomatic reports which this author has done. If what he has discussed is indeed anything to go by, then the report largely supports the assertions of the petitioners🤷‍♀️

3 years ago

From the look of things, most of the so called analysts want the report to go their way of saying elections were not free and fair. Ndiye ngati muli ndi chigamulo chanu why the fuss? Stupid agalu anthu osaphunzira.

Tiyeseni Phiri
Tiyeseni Phiri
3 years ago

Probably the challenge is to establish whether the failure to follow laid down procedures was due to fraudulent reasons. If not, whether the incidents of these problems were serious enough to render the whole process of determining the winner of the election not possible.

3 years ago


Kapado Chimulirenji
3 years ago

Let the EU present its report to Mutharika and the DPP followers. If the case was not taken to court was this report going to demand Mutharika to relinquish the presidency?

3 years ago

Can we do the same in London ? Present an election observer mission from african persepective of the just ended elections in UK? Can a visa be granted for that ?

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