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On wedding eve, PM’s love life hands Mugabe ammunition prompts questions over his judgment

Zimbabwean Prime Minster and Movement For Democratic Change President, Morgan Tsvangirai, salutes the crowd at the launch of his "Vote Yes" campaign in Harare, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Two women tried to stop his proposed marriage this week.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's plan to get married this weekend was thwarted after a magistrate ruled he was already married to a former flame, the latest twist in a scandal that has gripped the southern African nation.The dispute – which has seen two women challenge his wedding plans – has handed long-serving President Robert Mugabe political ammunition as he seeks to extend his three-decade rule in an election expected within a year – Mr. Tsvangirai is his main rival.

Lawyers for the Prime Minister said on Friday they would appeal the magistrate's ruling, issued less than 24 hours before Mr. Tsvangirai's wedding to fiancée Elizabeth Macheka was due to go ahead. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, the brouhaha has damaged Mr. Tsvangirai's reputation and raised questions about his relationships with women and money.

Former lover Locardia Karimatsenga earlier this week tried to block the wedding on the grounds she was already wed to 60-year-old Mr. Tsvangirai under Zimbabwe's "customary marriage" law.

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The next day, a second woman, South African Nosipho Regina Shilubane, also filed a court challenge to stop the wedding, saying she was engaged to the former trade unionist, with whom she had been romantically involved since 2009. The case has fanned tabloid-style headlines and aired salacious details about Mr. Tsvangirai's private life since the death of his wife, Susan, in a car crash in 2009.

While 88-year-old President Mugabe has been criticized for turning what was once one of Africa's strongest economies into a basket case, Mr. Tsvangirai is now facing public questions about his judgment.

There are also career-related issues at stake, including public trust, opinion, voters and elections, and the question: Is he fit to govern?" The Zimbabwe Independent, a private weekly newspaper, said in an editorial.

Mr. Tsvangirai's spokesman dismissed both cases as plots by the former British colony's security services to tarnish the reputation of a man who has fought hard to end Mr. Mugabe's rule.

But even Mr. Tsvangirai's aides have long questioned his choice of partners – Ms. Karimatsenga's sister is a member of parliament from Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, while Ms. Macheka's father is a member of ZANU-PF's central committee.

"Intelligence services are almost unquestionably involved. There is a script behind the theatre," the Zimbabwe Independent said.

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