Candidates for the upcoming Bulela Ditswe – Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections – scheduled for October 21, are keeping their fingers crossed hoping for a postponement after the Court of Appeal made the suggestion on Tuesday. The proposal was made by Justice Isaac Lesetedi when ruling over a request for an expedited appeal through which Government and BDP want to block public officers from participating in political party primary elections. Lesetedi said it is impossible to expedite the hearing due to numerous challenges among them availability of dates of hearing, judges to hear the appeal, congestion of court rolls and availability of support staff. Justice Lesetedi observed in his ruling that general elections are only expected to be held in October 2019, two years into the future, and therefore there is no harm that could be suffered if political parties could delay holding primary elections until court decides on the appeal. Emphasising the significant importance of the matter, Justice Lesetedi said unlike elections related disputes, which courts make contingency plans for in advance to focus resources to deal with those situations, the current matter requires sufficient time to enable court to properly deal with the appeal. BDP spokesperson Thapelo Pabalinga said he was not aware of a proposal to postpone their primary elections to accommodate the appeal process. Party Secretary general Mpho Balopi could not be reached while his deputy Shaw Kgathi did not answer his phone. "There has been no communication to that effect. I have consulted with the Vice President (Mokgweetsi Masisi) and as far as we are concerned Bulela Ditswe is going ahead as planned on October 21. However, should there be any changes to the dates we will communicate in due course," said Pabalinga.
On the request to have the matter heard in two weeks Justice Lesetedi noted that Government has had two months to prepare and file an appeal and therefore it will be unfair to give the trade union a much shorter period to engage lawyers and prepare for the appeal. He said waiting for two months to file the appeal, which is centred on non-complex grounds, does not demonstrate any urgency on the side of Government. "The respondents are entitled to fairer timelines when the appeal is heard for that deals with the core controversy between the parties. That controversy is so important to both sides that they should be sufficiently prepared for its hearing before the final court of the land whose decision is not appealable," said Lesetedi. The matter has therefore been set for roll call on Friday to find out if any slot exists from matters that may be withdrawn from the October session. Justice Lesetedi added that if the urgency would have elapsed by the end of October 2017, the matter can be listed for hearing in the January 2018 session, at which time both parties have indicated they will be ready and prepared to deal with the appeal. Government and the BDP argue that the Public Service Act prohibits political activism or participation in partisan politics among public officers, a position they submit is supported by the General Orders. The two, Government lawyers argue, make it illegal for public officers to vote in party primary elections. On the other hand, NALCGPWU oppose the appeal insisting that the matter is not urgent, but such assertion is a plot for political expediency. The trade union lawyers, therefore, want the high court decision by Justice Modiri Letsididi to be upheld. Justice Letsididi had on July 27 ruled that public officers are free to vote in political party primary elections.