Public servants regained influence in partisan politics on Thursday when High Court judge Modiri Letsididi nullified a decision by Government to block them from voting in party primary elections ahead of 2013 Bulela Ditswe. The decision presents a headache for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) aspiring contestants in the primary elections scheduled for October 2017 in 19 constituencies held by opposition parties. Making an authoritative pronouncement on the precise scope and reach of Section 5(5) of the Public Service Act No. 30 of 2009 as regards the exercise of voting rights by public servants in political parties, Letsididi said it could not have been the vision of legislature to promulgate laws that curtail freedoms and rights of workers. He therefore ruled that voting in party primary elections does not constitute political activism as envisaged in the PSA.
The eleventh hour embargo, announced shortly before the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections in 2013, was a masterstroke that pulled rug from under the feet of trade unions. Ahead of 2014 general elections the BDP was facing a backlash from civil servants over refusal to increase their salaries and address grievances over conditions of service, which led to the 2011 industrial action. After a strategy to decampaign Members of Parliament and cabinet ministers who did not support workers by placing them on a hit list, trade unions had refined the plan post 2011 national strike to target the politicians at party primary elections. The strategy was motivated by the discovery that after the BDP split in 2010, many who left to join the new offshoot Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) remained in the voters' roll of the ruling party, especially civil servants who are not active in politics. A real opportunity existed for civil servants to revenge the ill-treatment from government during the 2011 industrial action that saw thousands dismissed from work.
Gagged through a directive from the head of public service – Permanent Secretary to the President – civil servants could not participate in the controversial 2013 Bulela Ditswe which produced a record number of independent candidates within Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The PSP had claimed in the directive that voting in primary elections amounted to political activism. However, the High court on Thursday quashed the directive. Litigation was pursued by Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) and Manual Workers Union represented by attorney Mboki Chilisa.