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German Chancellor Merkel stuns in election victory

| Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 7:03 p.m.

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives triumphed in Germany's election on Sunday and appeared close to an absolute majority. While Merkel was headed for a third term, her center-right coalition partners faced ejection from parliament for the first time since World War II.

Depending on which parties end up in parliament, Merkel could find herself leading a “grand coalition” government with the left-leaning Social Democrats or — less likely — with the environmentalist Greens. Either way, several weeks of difficult negotiations are expected. Each combination might bring a slightly softer tone to Europe's debt crisis, but probably without any significant policy shifts.

Merkel, Germany's chancellor since 2005 and the de facto leader of the response to Europe's debt crisis over the past three years, told supporters that it was “a super result.” She wouldn't immediately speculate about the shape of the next government, but the 59-year-old made clear that she plans to serve a full term.

“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,” Merkel said during a television appearance with other party leaders.

If her coalition lacks a majority and the conservatives can't govern alone, the likeliest outcome is a Merkel-led alliance with the Social Democrats. The two are traditional rivals, but governed Germany together in Merkel's first term as a result of an inconclusive 2005 election.

“The ball is in Merkel's court,” said her center-left challenger, Peer Steinbrueck.

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