Botswana is renowned worldwide for the respect for the rule of law. and one of the universal principles of the rule of law is accessible and impartial dispute resolution.
The dictum simply means that impartial and competent Judiciary delivers justice to parties to a dispute.
After losing the October 23, 2019 general elections, the main opposition bloc, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) filed 16 parliamentary elections petitions against the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP at the High Court citing irregularities. The UDC explained that it believed in free and fair elections. Then the opposition stated that with the intended petitions, the party would seek inter alia the setting aside of the results of the said elections by reason of numerous irregularities to be fully traversed.
On October 25, 2019, Mokgweetsi Masisi was inaugurated as President for a five-year term in Botswana’s elections that saw his BDP secure more than 51% of parliamentary votes.
The BDP, which has ruled since Independence from Britain in 1966, was declared the winner after attaining the minimum 29 parliamentary seats required to form government after October 23’s vote.
In the election, the BDP retained key constituencies in the southern parts of the country, while the opposition made inroads into the central districts, previously the ruling party’s strongholds. The BDP won 38 seats, the UDC 15 while the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) attained three seats and the Alliance for Progressives (AP) managed only one.
The decision to challenge the outcome of the elections displeased some members of the society, who ironically pretended to be moral advocates of democracy. They dismissed the whole thing as ‘travesty of justice’ and ‘abuse of process’.
This was even before the UDC filed its petitions. We are glad that the Administration of Justice did not buy their uneasiness about the whole thing and acted swiftly by allocating the petitions to panels of Judges despite the obvious fact that the normal court business will be affected.
Therefore, the Chief Justice invoked Section 6 of the High Court Act so that the Election petitions are tried and determined by panels of High Court Judges as opposed to single Judges. The composition of these panels and factors that influenced their composition is a subject of debate for another day. Already one of the Judges has recused himself citing that he has long lasting personal friendship with Masisi.
Our simple submission is that the UDC is within its constitutional rights to challenge the outcome of the elections if they feel that they were fraudulent. This is democracy at play and as men and women who spend their personal fortunes to sponsor our democracy they should be encouraged seek justice. Only those who are anti-principle of the rule of law will develop goosebumps over nothing.
“Often we mistake stability, in terms of security and economic activity, to mean a country is doing well. We forget the third and important pillar: rule of law and respect for human rights.”
– Kofi Annan