LONDON (Reuters) - Britain faces a disruptive second election before Christmas if either of the two main parties try to govern alone as minority governments after Thursday's ballot, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader, warned on Tuesday.
Two days before the country's closest election since the 1970s, Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party are level in most polls with neither on track to win outright.
That raises the prospect of another coalition, something Britain has had since 2010, or of one of the two main parties trying to govern as a minority administration relying on smaller parties for support on a vote-by-vote basis.
Clegg, whose centrist party has been in coalition with Cameron's Conservatives for the last five years, wants to form another coalition with whoever wins the most seats and votes in Thursday's election.
He therefore has an interest in talking up the risks of minority governments.
He said a minority government would turn into "a shambles" because it would be vulnerable to the whims of smaller parties such as the Scottish National Party and the anti-EU UK Independence Party who would demand "sweeteners" in return for their short-term support.
"If they try to stagger through with a messy and unstable minority government instead of putting the country first then they will risk all the hard work and sacrifices people have made over the last five years," said Clegg, referring to the Conservatives and Labour.
"The last thing Britain needs is a second election before Christmas. But that is exactly what will happen if (Labour leader) Ed Miliband and David Cameron put their own political interest ahead of the national interest."
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Kate Holton)