Excerpt: "The regional mediation offering the most realistic chance to resolve Zimbabwe’s eight-year crisis has failed. South African President Thabo Mbeki’s stated objective in talks between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was to secure conditions for free and fair elections that would produce an undisputed outcome. But on 29 March 2008, Zimbabwe will hold elections already flawed by pre-poll misbehaviour, notwithstanding what may occur on polling day and thereafter. The results are likely to be heatedly disputed. Though the playing field is far from even, and efforts to create a united opposition have failed, ex-ZANU-PF politburo member Simba Makoni is seriously challenging Robert Mugabe’s re-election. The 84-year-old president probably has the means to manipulate the process sufficiently to retain his office, though possibly only after a violent run-off, but there is little prospect of a government emerging that is capable of ending the crisis. If the situation deteriorates, the African Union (AU) needs to be ready to offer prompt mediation for a power-sharing agreement between presidential contenders and creation of a transitional government with a reform agenda."