South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa said Lesotho should form a government promptly after weekend polls and push ahead with constitutional and security reform to avoid a recurrence of instability.
The polls had been brought forward by nearly two years in a bid to restore stability after an attempted coup by the army last August triggered fears of political violence. They failed to produce an outright winner, meaning the country will be ruled by a coalition some fear could prove unstable.
"Democracy has spoken. It is now up to the party leaders to form an inclusive government. This cannot be imposed on the Basotho people," Ramaphosa told a press conference as he wound up the South African Development Community's mission to the landlocked mountainous kingdom.
Incumbent prime minister Thomas Thabane's All Basotho Congress party won 40 constituencies in the weekend poll, just three more than the Democratic Congress (DC), the latter going on to form a coalition with smaller parties to wrest power from the ABC.
Thabane briefly fled to South Africa in August when soldiers occupied police headquarters and encircled his palace.
Some analysts believe post-election stability will not last and that the SADC mission failed to deal with a fundamental crisis in Lesotho.
"The quick fire elections did nothing to resolve underlying structural problems in the political system, particularly where a stable government is concerned," analyst Gary van Staden of NKC Independent Economists said. "The speed of the poll may well have distorted the environment even further."
A South African daily newspaper, The Times, called South Africa's mission to Lesotho a failure in an editorial, saying it had not prepared Lesotho's police-and-army-dominated political landscape for elections.
Deputy President Ramaphosa said there was work to be done to ensure there was no post-election violence.
"Lesotho should begin the process of reforms, at a constitutional level as well as at a security level, to ensure we do not have a similar situation in the future," Ramaphosa said.
He said SADC forces would remain in Lesotho until the new government, led by the DC's Pakalitha Mosisili, was formed in the next 14 days as is the constitutional requirement.
Apart from textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, the state of 2 million people's other big earner is water piped to South Africa, making it of strategic importance to Pretoria.
(Writing by Mfuneko Toyana; editing by Ralph Boulton)