Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition has won a landslide victory in Germany’s elections, setting the stage for a third term for Merkel as leader of Europe’s biggest economy.
Complete provisional results showed Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and the allied Christian Social Union winning 41.5 percent of the September 22 elections.
It was the best showing for the Christian Democrats in 23 years, and marks a voter reward for Merkel for her leadership that has steered Germany through the debt crisis that has roiled other European Union states.
However, Merkel’s current coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrat Party, suffered a rout in the ballot, winning less than 5 percent -- not enough to enter parliament.
It will be the first time in more than half a century that the Free Democrats will not be represented in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.
The results suggest that Merkel will likely have to negotiate a potential grand coalition with the rival center-left Social Democrats, who finished second with 25.7 percent.
Another potential coalition partner could be the environmentalist, left-leaning Greens, who won 8.4 percent. But analysts say this is probably unlikely, considering the wide differences over policy between Merkel’s coalition and the Greens.
Several weeks of potentially difficult negotiations are expected before a new coalition is formed.
Steering Through Crisis
Merkel is the third chancellor to win a third four-year term since World War II. The other two were fellow conservatives Konrad Adenauer, Germany’s first postwar leader, and Helmut Kohl, who led the country during reunification in 1990.
"Be happy and the happiness will give us the strength to create the coming years in a good way," Merkel told a victory rally in Berlin. "We have a lot of responsibility, but we can certainly handle it."
Merkel, 59, benefited from a German economy that remains strong and boasts a low unemployment rate of around 7 percent.
This has separated her from the leaders of countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain, and France, who were voted out of office over their handling of the debt and unemployment crises.
Merkel has courted controversy in countries such as Greece with her insistence that EU bailouts would only be extended with commitments for harsh spending cuts and reforms.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy has offered congratulations to Merkel, expressing confidence that she will continue to work for a "prosperous Europe.”
Congratulations have also been offered by the leaders of France, Britain, Belgium, and Italy.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa