Will civil servants vote in Bulela Ditswe?

SHARE   |   Monday, 24 July 2017   |   By Staff Writer

The High court will on Tuesday interprete the Public Service Act in relation to political activism and pass judgment over a decision by Government to block public officers from voting in party primary elections, just before 2013 Bulela Ditswe. In a rare show of unity, sown enemies Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and Manual Workers Union are fighting from the same corner to have the section used by the then Permanent Secretary to the President Eric Molale to block them from voting in party elections declared unconstitutional and invalid. For the first time since independence in 1966, in 2013 public officers were shocked to learn that they could no longer exercise the freedom to vote their preferred candidates in primary elections of their preferred political groupings. Public servants argue through the trade unions, that the provisions of the Act do not prohibit public officers from voting in primary elections because that participation is an adjunct to the national electoral process. "For citizens to get to the point where they exercise their right to vote in the national elections, they first have to choose a candidate at the political party primary elections level. It would be fruitless to grant a right to vote at the national election level without making it possible for the same electorate to choose a candidate at political party primary elections level. The legislature had the right to vote in primary elections in mind when it provided section 3(5)(b) which confines its ban on party membership to active participation," they argue in court papers. 

Facing a backlash from the over 100 000 strong civil servants over refusal to increase their salaries and address grievances over conditions of service, which led to the 2011 industrial action, the BDP government moved fast to block them from voting in Bulela Ditswe 2013. Through a Directive addressed to all government departments, Molale said public service employees were no longer allowed to vote in party primary elections as that constitutes political activism. He said such conduct contravenes Section 5(5) of the Public Service Act which prohibits civil servants from publicly speaking or demonstrating for or against any politician or political party, or being an active member of any political party. Contrary to such reasoning the decision was a strategy to protect ruling party politicians within government whom public sector trade unions had identified as enemies of workers and vowed to decampaign ahead of 2014 general elections. Those targeted were included in a hit list. With Tonota elective congress in July – where Masisi camp humiliated their challengers from the Nonofo Molefhi side – now water under the bridge Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is currently receiving submissions for Expression of Interest to contest Bulela Ditswe in opposition held constituencies.  The primary elections in opposition constituencies are due in October 2017. Soon thereafter the party will open expression of interest (EOI) for constituencies they currently hold, which will be followed by elections in June 2018. On the other hand, the opposition Botswana Congress Party (BCP) has also announced that it will hold the first batch of primary elections in December 2017. 

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