Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party has won Germany’s election, but finished just short of an absolute majority, official results show.
Mrs Merkel urged her party to celebrate “a super result” as she looked set for a historic third term.
Her conservative bloc took about 41.5% of the vote – but her liberal partners failed to make it into parliament.
It is thought she is likely to seek a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) who won 26%.
The results showed that the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) won only 4.8%, which correspondents say is a disaster for the junior coalition partner, leaving it with no national representation in parliament for the first time in Germany’s post-war history.
Party chairman Philipp Roesler called it “the bitterest, saddest hour of the Free Democratic Party”.
The FDP was beaten by the Green Party (8.4%) and the former communist Left Party (8.6%). It almost finished behind the new Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD), which advocates withdrawal from the euro currency and took 4.7%, just short of the parliamentary threshold.
There was at one point speculation that Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister CSU might even win enough seats for an absolute majority – the first in half a century.
Mrs Merkel earlier 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”.
Correspondents say that the 59-year-old chancellor seemed to acknowledge the complexities of forming a government when she was asked on television if she planned to reach out to other parties.
“Maybe we won’t find anyone who wants to do anything with us,” she replied. Correspondents say that the result is. nevertheless a ringing endorsement of her steady leadership during the euro zone crisis. CDU parliamentary group leader Volker Kauder said that the party “has a clear mandate from voters to form a government”. The outcome showed that “voters want Angela Merkel to remain chancellor” for a third term, he said.