Germany's main political parties began reaching out to their political opponents after Sunday's election left all of them without a majority. Both the SPD and CDU stuck to their claim to the chancellory.
Who will come out on top?
Angela Merkel, the Christian Democratic challenger, said that voters had clearly given her the responsibility of forming a government.
"If you add the union (the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union) and FDP (the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party), you get a majority of 1.2 million votes over red-green," Merkel told reporters at a press conference Monday.
Even though the conservatives and the FDP don't have a majority of seats in parliament after the election, Merkel said that she planned to talk to her dream coalition partner before turning to other parties. She added she was willing to talk with SPD and Greens, but not the new Left Party, which is made up of disgruntled Social Democrats and ex-communists from the former East Germany.
Conservative challenger Angela Merkel with Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber (left) on Sunday
Merkel also said she planned to co-chair negotiations with CSU leader Edmund Stoiber, who categorically refused to talk about a grand coalition under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Merkel added that she couldn't hope for the same level of compatibility with the Greens as she could with the FDP.
"We have to see about that," she said.
SPD: We're stro n gest
SPD leader Franz Müntefering meanwhile said that his party would not be willing to participate in a coalition without Chancellor Gerhard Schröder remaining in office.
Social Democratic Party leader Franz Muentefering
"We're clearly the strongest party, and that's why it's our responsibility" to conduct coalition negotiations, he said, adding that the SPD would be willing to talk to everyone except the Left Party.
While the SPD only got 34.3 percent of the vote compared to the CDU/CSU's 35.2 percent, Münterfering said CDU and CSU were two separate parties and therefore each had a smaller number of seats in the new parliament. The CSU only exists in Bavaria, where the CDU does not run in elections. However, the two parties have always considered themselves as one parliamentary faction.
The strongest party traditionally conducts negotiations to form a government in Germany.
FDP, Gree n s wait a n d see
FDP leader Guido Westerwelle celebrated on Sunday
FDP leaders, on the other hand, have ruled out a coalition with the SPD, but said they were willing to consider an alliance with CDU/CSU and Greens.
"We're willing to look at any opportunity" to participate in a CDU-led government, FDP leader Guido Westerwelle said, adding that it was up to Merkel to initiate talks. Greens leaders said that they were willing to talk.
But "we're not ready to function as an auxiliary engine for the neoliberal politics of black-yellow," said Greens leader Reinhard Bütikofer, referring to CDU and FDP.
Commenting on a possible "Jamaica coalition" of CDU, FDP and Greens that is named for the national colors of the Caribbean nation, the Greens top candidate, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, said that he didn't see this happening.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
"Jamaica is not an option," he said. "Can you picture Angela Merkel or Edmund Stoiber with dreadlocks?"
Merkel's future u n certai n ?
In a clear sign of her vulnerability, Merkel said she would ask the CDU to re-elect her as parliamentary group leader on Tuesday to reinforce her position ahead of talks to form a governing coalition.
But some think that a grand coalition might only be possible under the leadership of the premier of Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff, who was the preferred choice of many in the CDU to lead the conservatives into the election.
Reflecting on that scenario, the Ha n delsblatt daily reported a CDU supporter at party headquarters muttering as the disappointing results came in that "this would never have happened with Wulff in charge."
Could Schröder's successor as premier in Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff (left), also succeed him in Berlin?
Wulff himself refused on Monday to enter into a debate about the party's leadership.
Wichard Woyke, a political scientist from Münster University, said Merkel might have to be sacrificed if the Christian Democrats wanted to share power in a "grand coalition" stretching across right-left party lines.
"The SPD would have to make a dramatic change in its position" to join a coalition led by Merkel, Woyke said. "Everything points to Lower Saxony," he added, referring to Wulff.