The German state of Hesse faces lengthy talks to form a coalition government in the wake of its regional election. As nationally, the ruling conservatives must bridge the gap after a slump in support for their allies.
While the Christian Democrats easily weighed in as the biggest party in voting for the state parliament, they still faced the uphill task of scraping together a working majority on Tuesday.
With an assembly apparently deeply and evenly fractured along ideological lines, finding consensus will not be easy.
The CDU's coalition allies, the Free Democrats (FDP), managed a slightly better showing than some had predicted in the Sunday poll. But it was not enough for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives to form a full majority with their preferred coalition partner in the Wiesbaden assembly.
While the CDU won 47 seats in the 110-seat state chamber, the FDP was only able to garner places for six of its representatives - leaving the two parties together short of a working majority.
"We are the strongest force in this state by some distance and we aim to lead politically in the future," said Hesse's CDU state premier Volker Bouffier (pictured left).
There was welcome news for Bouffier as the FDP confounded media predictions in the Sunday's elections. Initial exit polls had suggested it would fall below the five percent threshold for representation in the state parliament.
Some improvement for SPD fortunes
While there was disappointment nationally for the Social Democrats (SPD), it at least improved on its 2009 result at the Hesse state level. Four years ago the center-left party polled only 23.7 percent of the vote, compared with 30.7 this time around.
That meant 37 seats for the SPD, but with the party's Greens allies having only 14 places in the assembly, it was not enough to form a state government.
The far-left Left party have six seats.
Hesse state's SPD leader Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel (pictured right) had ruled out the possibility of a coalition with the Left ahead of the election.
Dismissing criticism by Bouffier that the formation of such a coalition would be a betrayal of pre-election commitments, Schäfer-Gümbel was defiant. "I couldn't care less about Bouffier's opinion," he said.
The state is also important to Merkel at a national level, with the state parliament holding four seats in the German house, the Bundesrat. A loss of seats in the upper house, currently dominated by the SPD and Greens, could make it more difficult for Merkel's party to pass legislation.
rc/ipj (DPA, Reuters)