Angela Merkel has triumphed by securing a third term as German Chancellor but she will have to find new coalition partners to govern Europe’s largest economy.
Her conservative Christian Democratic Union and its sister party the Christian Social Union saw their combined share of the vote rise by 8% in an unexpectedly strong endorsement of her austerity policies.
Ms Merkel told supporters it was “a super result” but she did not immediately speculate about the shape of the next government.
“I see the next four years in front of me and I can promise that we will face many tasks, at home, in Europe and in the world,” she said during a television appearance on Sunday night.
“The party leadership will discuss everything when we have a final result but we can already celebrate tonight.”
Preliminary official results showed that overall the CDU/CSU won 41.5%, seeing off the main opposition Social Democrats who managed 25.7%.
It was a poor night for the liberal Free Democratic Party, which was Ms Merkel’s coalition partner since 2009, and saw its support plummet by nearly 10% to 4.8%.
It fell beneath the 5% threshold of national support and so is barred from the Bundestag, the national parliament.
Its humiliation almost handed Ms Merkel an absolute majority, as its exclusion lowered the number of seats the CSU would have needed to control the chamber.
But she is just shy of that total, so will need to forge alliances in order to govern.
It seems most likely she will seek a “grand alliance” with the SDP, which will be expected to seek promises in return for its support.
They could include a greater emphasis on growth across the eurozone, rather than austerity, and the introduction of a minimum national wage.
But Ms Merkel’s support from the electorate is so strong, it will strengthen her hand in any negotiation.
It is unlikely there would be an obvious sea-change in the government’s political trajectory.
That will be welcomed by many in the EU and leaders around the world who know that a change of direction might spook the markets and raise borrowing costs for indebted nations.
It will also cheer Prime Minister David Cameron, as Ms Merkel appears to share his conviction that the EU could be strengthened if power flows from Brussels back to member states.