German elections: Angela Merkel's conservatives romp home to victory
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives triumphed in Germany's election on Sunday and could even win the first single party majority in more than 50 years.
Her centre-right coalition partners risked ejection from parliament for the first time in their post Second World War history.
Depending on what parties end up in parliament, Merkel could also find herself leading a "grand coalition" government with the left-leaning Social Democrats.
"This is a super result," said Ms Merkel, who can now expect to serve a third term.
Ms Merkel's conservative Union bloc won about 42% of the vote, an improvement of more than eight points over Germany's last election in 2009, according to ARD and ZDF television projections based on exit polls and early counting.
Her coalition partners of the past four years, the pro-business Free Democrats, were just below the five per cent level needed to claim seats in the lower house, according to the projections.
Nevertheless, the Union's strong showing was a personal victory for Ms Merkel, solidifying her position as Europe's strongest political leader.
"We will do everything together in the next four years to make them successful years for Germany," Ms Merkel said.
She was interrupted by cheers and chants of "Angie! Angie! Angie!" as she made a brief appearance at her party's headquarters.
Centre-left challenger Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats trailed well behind Ms Merkel's party with up to 26.5%, projections showed.
Their Green allies polled eight per cent while the hard-line Left Party - heirs of the former Communist East German rulers with whom the centre-left parties have said they will not form an alliance - scored 8.5%.
"We did not achieve the result we wanted," Mr Steinbrueck told supporters. He said that he would not engage in "speculation" about the next government.
If Ms Merkel's current coalition lacks a majority and the conservatives cannot govern alone, the likeliest outcome is a Merkel-led alliance with the Social Democrats.
The two are traditional rivals but governed Germany together in Ms Merkel's first term after an inconclusive 2005 election.
"The ball is in Merkel's court," Steinbrueck said. "She has to get herself a majority."
It was o't clear whether a new party that calls for an "orderly breakup" of the eurozone, Alternative for Germany, would win seats in parliament's lower house.
The exit polls showed them winning up to 4.9% - just shy of enough for seats. Ms Merkel and others have said they will not deal with the party.
Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative, said it was an "overwhelming" result for Ms Merkel's party.
"The important thing is that Germany has stable conditions," she said.
The exit polls were greeted by shocked silence at the Free Democrats' election event.
Four years ago, the party won nearly 15% of the vote - but the party has taken much of the blame for squabbling in Ms Merkel's governing coalition since then.
"It's the bitterest, saddest hour of the Free Democratic Party," the party's leader, Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler, said.
Ms Merkel's party ran a campaign centered squarely on her personal popularity.
Recent polls gave her popularity ratings of up to 70% but the sky-high ratings did not extend to her coalition.
Ms Merkel calls her current coalition "the most successful government since reunification" 23 years ago.
She points to the robust economy and unemployment which, at 6.8%, is very low for Germany and far below that of many other European countries.
Belfast Telegraph Digital