Maj Gen (Rtd) Gregory Mugisha Muntu is today expected to announce a pivotal post-election decision, which could determine his very future in the Forum for Democratic Change.
By press time yesterday, uncertainty loomed over the country’s largest opposition party. Deeply divided by irreconcilable political philosophies, the cracks in its superstructure, dating way back to November 2012 when Muntu assumed office, could finally shatter in a decisive split.
It is not a week since he was unexpectedly defeated in an election where he was seeking to retain the FDC party presidency. Former Kumi County MP Patrick Oboi Amuriat won with 641votes against his 463 votes at the Namboole FDC delegates’ conference.
Many party members and the country at large have been left guessing what Muntu plans to do – some suggesting even the emergence of a new political party.
But Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, who was co-chair of the Muntu campaign, told The Observer yesterday that Muntu will bring an end to the guessing today.
“Tomorrow [today] we have a press conference; Gen Muntu will speak to the country about his next move,” Ssemujju said.
The usually outspoken Kira municipality member of parliament was guarded about what Muntu will be telling the country. He, instead, dwelt on how they were still consulting each other on the way forward.
Ssemujju also said that their reaction is going to be largely determined by the actions of Amuriat and his backers. He said they would very much want to work together as FDC to wrest power from NRM and President Museveni, but there must be room for them to do so.
“If people want to go ahead with the campaign threats that they made, that FDC is one party which must have one direction; one everything, what then do they want us to do; those of us who believe in multiple approaches?” Ssemujju said.
“The decision we are going to make next is going to be premised on the conduct of those who have won the election. We think that all approaches can work; if they also say they can work, then we can sit down and discuss how they can work. If they can’t work, certainly we will have to find a way for those of us who believe in these approaches to make them work,” he added.
Asked if their options include leaving FDC altogether, Ssemujju said: “A party is not a barracks, even though it is one person who has something different to say, he must be listened to…”
In his concession speech at Namboole, Muntu had pointedly said that in a few days, he would reveal his next move.
“There are decisions that I have got to make because while I congratulate you [Amuriat] for your victory, I also recognise that within the party there might be irreconcilable, either ideological differences, or methods or approaches. I’m an honest man, I’m always honest to myself I would like to be honest to you as well,” Muntu said.
Against this background, there were undertones of belligerence in FDC chairman Wasswa Biriggwa’s comments when he spoke to The Observer last evening. Evidently an Amuriat supporter, Biriggwa sounded almost triumphalist.
“We don’t want anybody to leave the party because we are stronger when we are together and united. However, we can’t hold onto somebody who wants to leave. FDC is not a prison; it is free entry and free exit. If they feel aggrieved and feel they want to go, let them go because we don’t want them to hold the party hostage,” Biriggwa said.
“I never mentioned anybody’s name but whoever feels he or she cannot stand the new leadership, they are free to leave because Amuriat was elected in a free and fair election,” Biriggwa said, noting that the fact that Amuriat won doesn’t mean that the views of other party members won’t matter anymore.
“When Muntu was the party president there were others who had divergent views, they didn’t go. They should also remain and allow us to discuss these issues like we have been doing before; we either agree or disagree.”
For Alice Alaso, FDC vice president for eastern Uganda, Biriggwa’s stance goes against the party grain.
“The statement made by Chairman Ambassador Wasswa Biriggwa that those aggrieved are free to go if they want was very unfortunate because if your child is crying and throwing tantrums, you don’t tell them to go and drink poison,” Alaso said, adding that the FDC, which has projected a public image of tolerance of divergent views, is acting pretty much like the ruling NRM.
“It appears like there is need for the emergence of a new tendency that believes in recruitment, constructive engagement, and not the extremists of Museveni and extremists of defiance. It might not emerge with Muntu or with me but nature abhors a vacuum. The FDC has ceded space which it used to occupy unless they are smart enough to put their act together and come back to that space,” Alaso said.
Alaso added that delegates who voted for Amuriat voted for defiance as the only strategy.
“Whatever we will do in the next three or five years will be defiance. The strategy of Gen Muntu of mobilisation, capacity building, structure-building was rejected,” Alaso said.
“It is clear that the FDC is divided right in the middle; you have to be for defiance or you are useless and unhelpful,” she added.
“For those who are not for defiance and are in leadership of the party, they must respect the decision of the delegates and not stand in the way of defiance. If they can’t join defiance, then they can sit back because there is no middle ground,” she said.
Alaso, however, stressed that it is erroneous for anyone to claim that defiance and confrontational politics is the basis upon which FDC was formed. FDC was formed after the amalgamation of the Reform Agenda, an NRM splinter group led by Dr Kizza Besigye, and the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (Pafo) in 2005.
“They have been saying that FDC was formed for defiance; they are wrong. Maybe they formed Reform Agenda for defiance but people who came from Pafo were advocating for constitutionalism, rule of law and democracy. Therefore, I find it erroneous when people misrepresent the fine ideals of FDC,” Alaso said.
Asked about what might be Muntu’s next plan of action, Alaso said she couldn’t say what it might be. She, however, added that it is going to be very hard to work with people who don’t trust him.
“So, we need Amuriat and his people to come out and clarify whether indeed Muntu is a mole. I don’t know what Muntu will be saying but certainly it is clear that the winners of the Namboole election cannot work with a mole and that has got far-reaching effects. If you are Ssemujju, Osegge and many others who have been campaigning for Muntu, that means that you are also a mole,” Alaso said.
Apollo Kantinti, a former MP for Kyadondo East constituency, said Amuriat and his people must be magnanimous in their victory. He said although there is democracy in FDC, the party must devise means through which to handle internal contradictions.
“I can’t tell you where the party is going because there are many frustrated people who believe that the party is not taking the right direction,” Kantinti said.
“This party is not owned by one group if Gen Muntu chooses to break ranks with FDC, there will be a problem because he has a significant following. I know he is reconciliatory but if he and his supporters continue to feel sidelined, they will have to look for options.”
Angelina Osegge, the Soroti woman MP who was chairperson of the Muntu election task force, declined to discuss the matter stopping at: “We will make an official statement, just be patient.”
Efforts to speak to Amuriat by press time were fruitless as calls to his known telephone number went unanswered.
However, Ingrid Turinawe,a Besigye loyalist and one of the leading figures in the Amuriat camp, which also enjoyed Besigye’s patronage, said FDC has always dealt with internal contradictions after every election.
“We had a free and fair election and Gen Muntu conceded defeat. It has been the practice in our party that whenever you are defeated, you accept defeat and we get together and build the party. Most of us have been defeated before but we always move on,” Turinawe said.
“I don’t see Muntu leaving FDC because he has lost. Imagine him walking away to form another party just to be its president! We have processes, we have reconciliation meetings, and I understand we were scheduled for swearing-in on Thursday but Gen. Muntu called the new president and requested him to shift to Friday because he will not be around; so, we are already talking. I hope everything will be ok.”