German Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a third term in elections, but her conservatives may be forced to govern in a "grand coalition" with the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP), exit polls say.
Merkel addressed jubilant supporters at CDU headquarters. After waiting for chants of "Angie, Angie" to die down, she told them: "This is a super result."
"We can celebrate tonight because we have done something fantastic."
But, in a reference to coalition building, she said it was "too early to say exactly what we\’ll do".
"We have a clear mandate from voters to form a government," said Volker Kauder, leader of the CDU\’s parliamentary group. The outcome showed that "voters want Angela Merkel to remain chancellor" for a third term, he said.
Projections by ARD and ZDF television put Merkel\’s Christian Democrats at more than 42 percent of the vote – stronger than the combined opposition parties that won enough support to enter parliament.
If that result is confirmed by the final count, it would allow the chancellor\’s conservative bloc – the Christian Democratic Union and Bavarian Christian Social Union – to govern Germany without a coalition partner.
Center-left challenger Peer Steinbrueck\’s Social Democrats trailed well behind with up to 26.5 percent.
The polls put Merkel\’s coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats, at 4.7 percent – below the minimum five percent threshold to keep their seats in parliament. The Alternative for Germany – a new party calling for an "orderly breakup" of the 17-member eurozone – held at 4.9 percent, also uncertain of winning seats.
If the current coalition fails to win a parliamentary majority, the likeliest outcome is a switch to a Merkel-led partnership with the Social Democrats. The two are traditional rivals, but governed Germany together in Ms. Merkel\’s first term after an inconclusive 2005 election.
"This is a super result," Ms. Merkel told cheering supporters. "We will do everything together in the next four years to make them successful years for Germany."
Nearly 62 million Germans are eligible to elect the lower house of parliament, which in turn chooses the chancellor.
Merkel\’s nearly certain third term as chancellor cements her place in history as one of the longest-serving and most influential European leaders in the postwar era.