The conservative Christian Democrats were leading Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats Sunday in the final district to vote in the German national election, preliminary results showed.
The eyes of the nation are on Dresden as the votes are counted
Initial results from the election in the eastern city of Dresden indicated that Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats could gain one seat in parliament to a total of 226 versus 222 for the Social Democrats, the independent polling institute Forschungsgruppe Wahlen told ZDF public television.
Shortly before the polls in the eastern German city of Dresden closed on Sunday, 72.1 percent of the roughly 219,000 registered voters had cast their ballots in the delayed election that will decide the final make-up of the Bundestag, with three seats at stake.
Participation was high despite heavy rains on and off throughout the day. At the last general election three years ago, however, voter participation was higher, with 75.9 percent of people having cast their ballots by the time polls closed at 6:00 p.m.
Germany went to the polls two weeks ago in the general election but the vote was postponed in Dresden's first district for two weeks due to the death of a candidate.
Rival claims for leadership
Both Schröder and Merkel claim the right to become chancellor after their parties delivered a photo-finish in the Sept. 18 elections, leaving Germany in political deadlock. Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister partner won just three seats more in the Bundestag lower house of parliament than Schröder's Social Democrats, far short of a governing majority.
Although the Dresden poll cannot significantly alter the preliminary Sept. 18 result, Germans are hoping the official end of the election with the vote in Dresden will produce a breakthrough in the bitter power struggle over who will be the next chancellor.
It is looking increasingly likely that the two main parties will form a so-called grand coalition to govern the country. Talks between the two sides are still in the exploratory phase and they have not settled the burning question of who will become chancellor. Schröder claims he still has a mandate for a third term as chancellor, but Merkel said her alliance won the election and therefore she should govern.
Schröder's stance is seen by many as a bargaining bluff in the coalition talks, and there have been suggestions from the conservatives that he would bow out after the Dresden vote.
The Social Democrats have dismissed the claims and an announcement by Schröder's office that he will visit Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Wednesday, suggested he intends to still be head of government at that point.
In the last election in 2002, voters in the Dresden district elected a Christian Democrat by a narrow margin.