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A man casts his vote during the national elections at Semonkong, Lesotho June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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MASERU (Reuters) - Lesotho's people braved winter cold to vote in a general election on Saturday just two years after the previous one as the mountainous southern African kingdom struggles with political instability.

The landlocked country, surrounded by South Africa, has had King Letsie III as head of state since 1996, but political leadership has been volatile in recent years with the last two elections failing to produce a winner with a clear majority.

Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who had been in power since 2015, lost a confidence vote in parliament in March after several defections by ruling coalition lawmakers to the opposition eroded his support.

Democratic Congress party leader Mosisili's main rival is All Basotho Convention head Thomas Thabane, who governed from 2012 until 2015. Thabane cast his ballot mid-morning at the Makhoakhoeng polling station in the capital Maseru.

The small nation of 2 million people has been hit by several coups since independence from Britain in 1966, and voting commenced with an army presence on Saturday.

Other voters at Makhoakhoeng station, speaking in the local Sesotho language, were satisfied with the proceedings. "I feel very happy now that I have voted," said Kathleho Tshai.

Lesotho, with very little in terms of industry or commercial agriculture, relies heavily on remittances from relatives working on the farms and in the mines of neighbouring South Africa.

"We are growing and we need people that will listen to us when we speak to them," Peter Jonas told Reuters at the polling station.

Lesotho, source of some of South Africa's largest rivers and home to a multi-phase dam project to provide economic hub of Johannesburg with long-term water supply, has strategic importance to its much larger and more powerful neighbour.

(Reporting by Marafaele Mohloboli and Dinky Mkhize; Writing by TJ Strydom; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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