Even as the opposition falters, the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) is not about to become complacent or leave anything to chance as shown by a swift central committee decision on Monday to postpone party primary elections that were scheduled for October 21. Announcing the indefinite postponement of Bulela Ditswe on Tuesday, BDP Secretary General Mpho Balopi, said the decision was made to allow for determination of an appeal challenging participation of civil servants in internal party primary elections. Balopi also revealed that out of the 18 opposition held constituencies where the BDP was planning to conduct primary elections in two weeks, seven have agreed on consensus candidates. These are Selibe-Phikwe West, Tlokweng, Gaborone North, Gaborone Central, Goodhope-Mabule, Bonnington North and Kanye South. What Balopi did not tell the public is that BDP desperately wants to block civil servants participation in Bulela Ditswe because of embarrassing losses suffered by no less than five sitting cabinet ministers in 2013 primary elections. That loss was largely attributed to disgruntled civil servants who had vowed to punish cabinet ministers for failing to support them in the infamous 2011 public sector strike. To support the prohibition, BDP deputy Secretary General Shaw Kgathi has filed an affidavit supporting the appeal led by Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi. Cabinet ministers who were defeated in the first phase of Bulela Ditswe 2013 held North of Dibete included then Foreign Affairs minister Phandu Skelemani who lost to Buti Billy in Francistown East, Lebonaamang Mokalake lost to Sethomo Lelatisitswe in Boteti East, Frank Ramsden lost to Costantinos Markus in Maun East, Dr Gloria Somolekae lost to Kefentse Mzwinila in Mmadinare while the then Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Ramadeluka Seretse was defeated by Kgotla Autlwetse in Serowe North West. Soon thereafter, the BDP gained access to the Government employee roll to compare with their voters' rolls for various primary elections. The party discovered that there were more than 32 000 civil servants on the BDP membership roll. To avoid further upsets in the second phase of Bulela Ditswe 2013 south of Dibete, the then PSP Eric Molale issued a directive in November 2013 blocking civil servants from participating in party primary elections. His argument was that such participation amounted to political activism. Notwithstanding the moratorium in primary elections, the BDP suffered a huge loss of popular voter at the 2014 general elections, dropping to just 47%.
The appeal over participation of public servants in party primaries, to which Deputy Secretary General of the BDP Shaw Kgathi has deposed a supporting affidavit, is set for hearing in the application session of the Court of Appeal, which starts on November 10 with judgment only expected in early 2018. The suggestion for a postponement was first made by Justice Isaac Lesetedi two weeks ago when ruling over a request by the state for an expedited appeal, saying there is no harm that could be suffered if political parties could delay holding primary elections until court decides on the matter. Government and the BDP want the CoA to overturn the decision of Justice Modiri Letsididi, who on July 27 ruled that public officers are free to vote in political party primary elections. The appellants argue that voting in primary elections amounts to political activism and participation in partisan politics, which is prohibited by the Public Service Act and the General Orders. Government's other ground of appeal is that NALCGPWU does not have a legal standing to bring the interpretation of the Public Service Act (Section 5(5)(b))to court on behalf of its members. They contend that only individual employees of the public service enjoy such a legal right, not their trade unions. In an answering affidavit, NALCGPWU National organising secretary, Johnson Motshwarakgole says the proper interpretation of the provisions that bear on the terms and conditions of employment of public officers, is undoubtedly an issue which a recognised trade union such as his has an interest in. According to Motshwarakgole, there is nothing in the language of Section 5(5)(b) which suggests that civil servants are prohibited from voting in primary elections. He dismisses the appeal, saying it was not made in the public interest but for nefarious purpose of trying to protect cabinet ministers from public officers voting in favour of their opponents. He said the PSP will not suffer any harm if the appeal is heard in the normal cause in view of the fact that prior to the outcome of the first phase of Bulela Ditswe in 2013, where several cabinet ministers were defeated there was never any doubt about entitlement of public officers to vote in primary elections. "This is despite the fact that both the PSA and General Orders have always prohibited active political participation. It is unclear why PSP has not availed themselves of the remedy of stay of execution. The applicants have scanty prospects of success on appeal," said Motshwarakgole.