Zimbabweans wake this morning to find their country on the verge of change, with President Robert Mugabe’s 28-year-rule now considerably weakened by the election results. The Movement for Democratic Change now holds the balance of power in the House of Assembly.

To say that history is being made is an understatement. According to figures published by Reuters, under Mugabe, inflation reached 100,586% in January this year, life expectancy plunged 63 years in 1990 to 37 in 2005, 83% of the population lives on less than $2.20 per day and 45% are malnourished.

And yet, despite the human tragedy that unfolded under his reign, there are reports that Mugabe will be allowed to retire peacefully to the $17.5 million retirement home he built for himself while in power, and will be granted immunity from prosecution. For the new government, justice and retribution are secondary to reclaiming the country’s future.

Here’s how Mugabe’s slide from power is being covered in the media and the blogosphere.

The numbers: [T]he election commission confirmed Wednesday that the balance of power had fatefully shifted in Parliament, long a bastion of support for Mr. Mugabe. With only 11 races to be declared, the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party, had 106 seats in all, including one for an allied independent, in the 210-seat assembly. Mr. Mugabe’s party — known as ZANU-PF — had only 93 seats and among its losing candidates were seven of the president’s cabinet ministers. – New York Times

Behind the scenes: There are signs that Mr Mugabe is growing increasingly desperate as layers of power are stripped away from him. Unconfirmed reports yesterday said Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, secretly flew to Harare on Tuesday to try to persuade the president to accept the inevitable. On the streets of the capital, there are rumours that Mr Mugabe’s wife Grace and children Bona, Chatunga and Robert junior have already fled the country, possibly for Malaysia. – The Scotsman

On the possibility of a run-off election: MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti said: “If that is the case, without prejudice to our position this party will contest the runoff, but we would have hoped for a situation that there will be a conceding of the result for a number of reasons, and the number of reasons being that it is unlikely that the people’s will, will in any way be reversed in that run-off. If anything, there will actually be an embarrassing margin in favor of the opposition in the runoff. There is no question about that.” – Voice of America

The dangers of a run-off election: By law, any run-off must be held within three weeks, raising fears that tensions could rise and lead to violence between opposition supporters and security forces. Should he cling on, Mr Mugabe could be expected to deploy his political shock troops – independence war veterans and his “green bombers” youth militia – to intimidate voters. But the opposition’s extraordinary momentum would be hard to halt. Mr Biti reminded reporters that violent disorder was all but alien to Zimbabwe and dismissed fears that frustration would lead to violence. “We are not worried,” he said. “There is a lot of goodwill among the Zimbabwean people. Violence is not their way.” – Daniel Molokele

Tsvangirai must be President: So the official election results and those of the MDC on the parliamentary polls agree: The MDC has a wafer thin majority. This is of huge symbolic significance but will only have practical political meaning if Tsvangirai is also declared president. If, as Mugabe & Co. might still be gambling, they “concede” parliament to the MDC but decide to have Mugabe tough things out and hang on to the presidency, then the MDC having the majority in parliament will mean nothing. – Zimbabwe Review

The dream: With the MDC having claimed parliament people are beginning to dare to dream. Beginning to believe that the 10 year old dream may be coughing its first breaths. And that’s what it is – the first breaths. Alongside the first breaths of the new are the kicks of the collapsing jongwe. Now is a time where history can be made or unmade. The last kicks of the jongwe could be bloody. And the new birth already seems to have something of the old. There is the likelihood of ZANU PF elements being brought into an MDC government to pacify the armed forces and ZANU PF itself. Some say any new birth is better than the old. True. But the struggle will continue under any new government. We will have more democratic space that we will need to burst open. We will have to struggle to make sure a new government delivers social services, that it doesn’t repay illegitimate foreign debt, that it doesn’t privatise our resources into the hands of the new elites. The struggle will continue. Freedom is always on the horizon. And we have to keep marching. – Commander Fatso

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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