Lesotho's ex-deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing has called for a national unity government, saying a broader coalition deal would ensure stability after a parliamentary election failed to give any party absolute majority.

Lesotho held elections last week, the third in five years, after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, with whom Metsing had been in a coalition government, lost a no-confidence vote as prime minister in March.

Mosisili could have either resigned or advised the king to call snap elections and he went for the latter option.

He admitted defeat on Friday to his opponent Thomas Thabane, whose All Basotho Convention (ABC) emerged as the winner of 48 parliamentary seats but short of the 61 needed to form a government on its own.

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Easing fears of instability, the prime minister resigned from office after the election results came through. He will still head a caretaker government until the new prime minister is sworn in.

"There is no need for the removal of the existing government in office as we all agree that in order for Lesotho to be stable there is a need for a government of national unity," Metsing told a news conference late on Friday.

Thabane has said his ABC party would form a coalition government with three other parties: Alliance Democrats, Basotho National Party and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

The outcome reverses the result of an election two years ago when Mosisili removed Thabane by teaming up with Metsing and other smaller parties.

Lesotho, a nation of two million people, has been hit by several coups since gaining independence from Britain in 1966 and its last two elections failed to produce a winner with a clear majority.

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Thabane, who governed from 2012 until 2015, and other opposition leaders fled to South Africa in 2015 after an assassination attempt.

Completely landlocked by South Africa, Lesotho is one of the world's poorest countries and its economy is heavily dependent on its neighbour, to where it exports water and hydroelectric power.

South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the "peaceful and democratic election in Lesotho" and extended congratulations to the mountain kingdom.

Source: News agencies