Exit polls show Merkel heading for landslide win
Angela Merkel was heading for a landslide victory in the German elections last night, putting her within reach of the first absolute majority in the country's parliament in half a century.
Exit polls placed her conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on 42.5pc, a result which if confirmed would be its strongest since 1990, the year of German reunification.
The outcome could give Ms Merkel enough seats for an absolute majority in the Bundestag lower house for the first time since conservative Chancellor Konrad Adenauer achieved that feat in 1957.
But she may still need a coalition partner for her third term when the final votes are counted.
Hailing a "super result" for her party, Ms Merkel (59) told supporters: "We will do all we can in the next four years together to make them successful years for Germany.
"It is too early to say how we will proceed but today we should celebrate."
Ms Merkel, often cited as one of the world's most powerful women, appeared to have been rewarded for steering Germany through the eurozone crisis relatively unscathed. Her supporters adopted the campaign slogan "Stay cool and vote for the chancellor" and a third term would ultimately see her eclipse Margaret Thatcher as the EU's longest-serving female leader.
It had been expected that Ms Merkel would be forced into a 'grand coalition' with the main left-wing opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), of the kind she led in her first term.
However, according to last night's exit polls the SPD was on course to win just 26.4pc of the vote, after a gaffe-filled campaign led by former finance minister Peer Steinbrueck.
Ms Merkel's current coalition partners, the Free Democrats, also appeared to have suffered a bad night, crashing out of the Bundestag for the first time in their history after winning less than 5pc of the vote, according to the projections.
Francois Hollande, the French president, who had hoped for a strong SPD showing, was swift to congratulate Ms Merkel on her victory in a telephone call and invite her to Paris once a new government is formed, his office said.
Herman Van Rompuy, the EU president, also congratulated Ms Merkel and expressed confidence that Germany would remain committed to a "prosperous Europe".
However, a clear victory for Ms Merkel would likely be welcomed in Britain, which believes she may support David Cameron's attempt to repatriate some powers from Brussels.
A new eurosceptic party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), could, however, still deny her a parliamentary majority if it breaks through above the 5pc threshold needed to enter parliament. It was hovering on 4.9pc in last night's projections.