As the results began pouring in on election night, DW-WORLD followed the ups and downs and the early stages of coalition negotiations in a live ticker. Here's a short summary of the main highlights.
Schröder and Merkel fought to the very end
15:43 UTC (5:43 pm local time): Suspense Builds
Polls opened across the country on Sept. 18 at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and were due to close at 1600 GMT (6:00 pm local time), with the first exit polls due shortly afterwards. Despite sunny weather across the country and the neck-and-neck race between the two prime candidates for chancellor -- Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel -- voter turnout was slightly lower than at the last general election in 2002. Six hours after polling stations opened, turnout was 41.9 percent, compared with 42.8 percent in 2002. The overall total voter turn-out in 2002 was 79.1 percent.
16:02 UTC: First Exit Results
Early exit results showed the distribution of votes according to the Infratest Dimap: Christian Democrats /Christian Social Union: 35,5, Social Democrats: 34, Greens: 8,5, Free Democrats: 10,5, The Left Party/ PDS: 7,5.
The division of the seats in Bundestag based on the exit polls: CDU/CSU: 221, SPD: 212, Greens: 53, FDP: 65, Left Party: 47
16:09 UTC: CDU Coalition in Question
After the early exit polls, Angela Merkel's preferred coalition between the CDU and FDP appears uncertain. Together the two parties only garner about 46 to 47.5 percent of the votes, slightly less than a combination of SPD, Greens and the Left Party/PDS with 49 to 50 percent.
Although the CDU with chancellor candidate Angela Merkel came out of the election as the strongest party with 35.5 percent according to exit polls gathered by Infratest Dimap, the results are not enough to give the so-called black-yellow coalition (CDU and FDP) a majority in the German parliament or Bundestag. The results also reflect a loss for the CDU compared to the 2002 federal elections, when the party received 38.5 percent of the overall vote.
16:22 UTC: A Grand Coalition?
With the conservatives the top vote-getters, Angela Merkel seems likely to replace Gerhard Schröder, who has ruled Germany for seven years. But without enough support to govern together with the FDP, Merkel could well be forced to share power with Schröder's SPD in Germany's first "grand coalition" since the 1960s. It is a grouping markets fear would doom CDU plans to push through aggressive reforms of Germany's labor market and tax system, but one which up to a third of Germans say they prefer because it would keep many of the social aspects of the SPD on the agenda.
16:26 UTC: Votes Still Coming In
Although the predictions in Germany are generally fairly accurate, a provisional official result will not be known until after midnight local time (2200 GMT), and even then the absolute final vote count will not come until Oct. 2 when a by-election takes place in Dresden, following the death of one of the candidates.
Here's a run-down of the results so far as published by the Infratest Dimap open poll closing at 6:22 pm local time: Christian Democrats /Christian Social Union (CDU): 35.8 Social Democrats (SPD): 33.7 Greens: 8,2 Free Democrats (FDP): 10,3 The Left Party/ PDS: 8.
The division of the seats in Bundestag based on the exit polls: CDU/CSU: 223 SPD: 210 Greens: 51 FDP: 64 Left Party: 40.
Compared to the last federal elections in 2002, both of the two mainstream parties, CDU and SPD, watched as their support among voters tumbled. The CDU lost 2.7 percent compared to the last election, whereas the SPD lost 4.8 percent.
The smaller parties, which often make up the second vote on the ballot (Germany allows two votes per ballot), played a significant role again this year. The Greens lost slightly less than a half percentage point while the FDP which campaigned as a potential coalition partner with the CDU watched as its votes grew 2.9 percent to one of its highest results: 10.3 percent. The introduction of the new Left Party which merges allienated SPD members and the successor to the East German communist party, PDS, had a significant impact on the division of votes. With 8 percent, the party headed by former SPD member Oscar Lafontaine and former PDS chief Gregor Gysi pulled a good slice of votes away from the SPD.
Who is the Winner?
It's not clear yet which party has come out the real winner of this year's early parliamentary elections. Despite being the strongest single party in terms of votes, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party CSU were not able to guarantee a majority with the preferred coalition partner FDP. On the other hand, the SPD and Greeens lost the election when it comes to votes. But if they join with the Left Party/ PDS to form a so-called Red-Red-Green coalition, Gerhard Schröder could remain chancellor. Will that happen, or will the SPD join with the CDU to form a grand coalition with Merkel as chancellor. Much is still uncertain as the vote counting continues.
In terms of pure numbers, a grand coalition is the most likely. But when it comes to content and a common platform, a government made up of SPD and CDU is the most difficult. Only 36 percent of CDU supporters could imagine endorsing a grand coalition, according to German public broadcaster ZDF. On the other side, some 52 percent of SPD voters said a coalition with CDU was a feasible alternative to the current government with the Greens.
17:00 UTC: A Traffic Light Coalition?
SPD Party Chef Franz Müntefering applauded his party for the hard work during the intense campaign. "Up to the very end of this intense campaign we worked hard and managed to convince voters: The country wants Gerhard Schröder as chancellor," he told an elated party headquarters in Berlin. At the same time, Müntefering rejected a possible coalition with the Left Party. A traffic light coalition – red, green, yellow – with the Greens and FDP, on the other hand, is a possibility, he said.
FDP party chef Guido Westerwelle brushed aside the possibility of joining a coalition with the SPD and Greens. "We are not open for a traffic light constellation," he said referring to the party's red, green and yellow colors. The business-friendly Free Democrats have said they want a real political change. If there is not enough support to form a coalition with the CDU, than the FDP will stay in the opposition, Westerwelle said. According to the latest poll counts, the FDP and CDU just missed their goal of a majority coalition. A coalition with SPD, FDP and Greens, on the other hand, would have a clear mathematical majority.
17:13 UTC: A New Left Presence
The lead candidates for the Left Party, Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine have interpreted the election as a clear success for their newly formed party. Gysi said he believes the political landscape in Germany has changed. Speaking in Berlin on Sunday, the former member of the post-communist party PDS said it was the first time since the mid-1950s that "a left party was taken seriously in western Germany." Lafontaine, who left the SPD after rising in its ranks to finance minister under Gerhard Schröder's first administration, said the Left Party, which was formed earlier this year, represented a "strong left force in Germany."
17:30 UTC: Schröder Counts on Staying in Office
Speaking at the SPD party headquarters in Berlin shortly after 7:00 pm Sunday, still-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said in his own words he expects to stay in office. "Those, who sought a change in the chancellory have failed disastrously," he told a crowd of celebrating SPD supporters and added that he couldn't understand how the CDU could interpret the election results as their victory.
17:49 UTC: Difficult Elections for Greens
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens has not made any statements about the future role of his party. The Greens, which have received approximately 8 percent of the votes, can be proud of the outcome from the elections, Fischer said in Berlin. The leading candidate for the Greens said his party should prepare itself for an active role in the opposition and work to keep the big parties in check. Fischer spoke of "difficult" election results. On the one side red-green no longer has the majority, on the other side "a politics of social coldness and environmental backwardness" also failed to receive the majority.
17:54 UTC: One Point Separates CDU and SPD
The latest vote counts from 7:30 pm, an hour and a half after the polls closed across the country show the difference between CDU and SPD narrowing to about one percentage point. CDU: 35.3 SPD: 34.1 FDP: 10.1 Greens: 8.1 Left Party: 8.5
The division of seats in the Bundestag: CDU: 220 SPD: 212 FDP: 63 Greens: 50 Left: 53.
18:45 UTC: Schröder Rejects Coalition under Merkel
Incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has rejected a grand coalition under the leadership of CDU party leader Angela Merkel. "It won't work," he said in a live television round-table discussion in German public broadcaster ARD. When asked if he would even consider the option of discussing a coalition with Merkel, Schröder said, "do you seriously believe, that my party is ready to negotiate with Ms. Merkel on this subject after she has said she wants to be chancellor." Schröder still considers himself the favored candidate for chancellor even though his party had slightly fewer votes than the CDU.
Schröder Claims He is the Chancellor
No one other than himself is in a position to build a stable government, Schröder said less than three hours after the polls closed on Sunday. The results are clear, Schröder said. "I will be the one conducting the coalition negotiations. And I can say now: these discussions will be successful," he added. Merkel responded by saying she would find a way to negotiate with the Social Democrats. She added that in the end what mattered was securing a majority.
19:14 UTC: CDU, Greens and FDP Form Coalition?
Edmund Stoiber, leader of the Christian Social Union – the CDU sister party in Bavaria – and former chancellor candidate in 2002, said the conservative parties would consider discussing the option of a coalition with the Greens. Given the "complicated results of the election," he said he could imagine a coalition with the FDP and the Greens as a "very very difficult emergency solution." In Bavaria, the traditional stronghold of the conservatives, the CSU lost considerably slipping below 50 percent. The low turnout for Stoiber's party contributed significantly to the overall poor results of the Union.
19:17 UTC: No Traffic Light for Germany
FDP party leader Guido Westerwelle has categorically rejected a coalition with the SPD and Greens. The FDP went into the elections with the declared goal of kicking the red-green coalition out of office, he said on television Sunday evening. "We will not participate in anything that will help keep red-green in office." The FDP party leadership endorsed Westerwelle's position. There will be no traffic light in Germany, it said in a reference to the red, green, yellow party colors. The near 10 percent voter returns are the highest the party has ever had in a federal election and make it one of the clear winners of Sunday's ballot.
19:52 UTC: Parliamentary Parity Possible
When the overhang seats are figured into the equation, the SPD could come out tied with the CDU in terms of seat distribution in the Bundestag, according to predictions put forth by German public broadcaster ARD. A complicated system of calculating both direct votes for candidates and indirect votes for political parties could produce a seat parity in the parliament. An optimistic interpretation could show the SPD receiving 10 overhang seats to bring the party up to 223 in the Bundestag, while the CDU/CSU could expect to receive three overhang seats to bring their numbers up to 223 as well. In the unlikely event this would happen, both parties would still lack an outright majority to form a coalition government on their own.
20:33 UTC: 42 Percent Favor Grand Coalition
According to a snap poll by German public broadcaster ARD, 42 percent of Germans are now of the opinion that a grand coalition would be "the best thing for Germany." Some 20 percent favor a so-called "Jamaica coalition" with the union (black), the FDP (yellow) and the Greens. 18 percent of the country favors a traffic light constellation with the SPD, FDP and Greens. The survey was conducted by the polling institute Infratest Dimap and interviewed 1,000 Germans less than three hours after the polls closed.
21:37 UTC: Does Dresden Decide?
The head of Germany's Emnid polling organization has predicted that a provisional final result will not differ greatly from current predictions, but the winner could still remain undecided until a late election in the eastern German city of Dresden takes place on Oct. 2. Under Germany's complicated system of calculating parliamentary seats, Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats could yet win more seats in parliament than the opposition Christian Democrats, despite receiving fewer votes overall. With the so-called overhang seats, the SPD and CDU both have 222 seats. The 219,000 registered voters in Dresden could in the end be the tie-breaker.
22:00 UTC: CDU, SPD Racing for Photo Finish
The preliminary official election returns give the following results:
Left Party: 8.7
The division of seats in the Bundestag is as follows:
Left Party: 54
Voter turnout was 77.7 percent, slightly lower than the 79.1 percent in 2002.