Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu, 54, was today elected the second president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), turning a new chapter in the history of the party which has been led by Dr Kizza Besigye for seven years since its inception in 2005.
The former army commander got 393 votes (50.5%) while his closest rival Nathan Nandala-Mafabi garnered 361 (46%) votes, a margin of 32 votes. The third contestant, Geoffrey Ekanya, garnered only 17 votes (2%), confirming that this was a two-horse race.
Despite a few skirmishes, the voting exercise was generally peaceful. By 4pm, counting of votes was underway and two hours later, the winner was declared. Muntu's election set off ecstatic scenes at Namboole stadium, as supporters lifted him high. Mafabi's supporters, who had been the most vocal before the results were declared, went silent.
Muntu's first task will be to heal the divisions that were exacerbated by a heated campaign. At today's election, signs of tension were still visible when Mafabi's team asked for a recount, which was granted. The campaigns split top party officials along two camps. Muntu, in his victory speech called for reconciliation. He affirmed that he would work with everybody to build a stronger party.
He said he liked challenges. And given his narrow victory over Mafabi, he added, he must work tirelessly to convince people he has the ability to lead. Mafabi congratulated Muntu and assured him that he would continue mobilizing for the party so that it emerges stronger in 2016.
"We must deal with oppressors squarely. We should not have breakfast and tea with them. Mafabi getting 46% is commendable because we have been competing against the national mobiliser," he said.
Besigye described Muntu as a capable leader and someone with impeccable integrity.
"We have known each other for more than 30 years. I got to know him at Makerere and I was happy to meet him in the bush. Anybody who has worked with Muntu knows that he is hardworking," Besigye said.
Today's election was precipitated by Besigye's decision to cut his term short by two years so that he concentrates on political activism. Muntu will serve until 2014 when fresh elections are expected.
Muntu's victory was not entirely unexpected. A series of polls going into the election had shown that he was ahead of his two rivals while his performance during Monday's televised debate was commendable. Yet what the polls failed to get right was the closeness of the poll. Most polls indicated that Muntu would win by a comfortable margin.
Of the two, Mafabi invested a lot of resources to ensure victory. He will now concentrate on his duties as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Earlier in his farewell speech, Besigye implored the new leader to strengthen the party further.
"The new leader must devise new methods of finding money for the party, promote the party's ideology and build support and leadership at the grassroots," Besigye said.
He added that he was going to concentrate on the struggle to liberate Uganda. Several opposition politicians witnessed the election including the Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Lubaga South MP, Ken Lukyamuzi, Asuman Basalirwa, the leader of JEEMA party and former Buganda Katikkiro, Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere.