After the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union failed to get enough votes for their sought-after coalition with the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), the name and the party of the next chancellor remains up in the air.
In the coming days, the CDU, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the FDP and the Greens will discuss coalition possibilities after Sunday's surprise results. The four major parties meet on Monday internally to discuss how next to proceed. With the race between the two major parties so close, the district election in Dresden -- which didn't vote with the rest of the country on Sept. 18 because of the sudden death of one of the candidates -- on Oct. 2 might be crucial to deciding who will become chancellor.
Here are some of the options being discussed.
The most-discussed option, a so-called grand coalition combining the SPD and the CDU/CSU is once again a possibility after Angela Merkel said that her CDU would be willing to discuss coalition possibilities with "any democratic party."
Industry heads and economic analysts have repeatedly stated that a grand coalition would be the worst possible option for the reforms necessary to fix Germany's ailing economy. Low investment and economic growth, the financial cost of reunification and an aging population have put Germany's postwar social market economy under serious strain.
The SPD and CDU/CSU, although both agreeing on the need for reforms, have proposed different approaches. Schröder has said reforms need an element of "social justice," and shied away from making drastic changes to Germany's labor and health legislation. The conservatives, on the other hand, have proposed harder cuts and changes and called for the higher taxes to cover the cost of the reforms.
At a discussion round featuring top candidates following the election Sunday night, Schröder, visibly smug and confident at Angela Merkel's failed attempt to reach her stated coalition, said that he favored a grand coalition only if he were named the chancellor. Merkel, whose party was the strongest after Sunday's election, said that she was the only chancellor option in a grand coalition.
The only other option Schröder has at staying in power is to form a government with the FDP and the Greens. The name "traffic-light coalition" refers to the three party's colors: SPD (red), FDP (yellow), Green. The Greens have been wary of the idea.
During the television talk round Sunday night, FDP leader Guido Westerwelle was adamant that his party would stay in the opposition rather than join a government with Schröder and the Greens. "A traffic-light coalition is a theoretic, but not a political solution," said Westerwelle, adding that his party had spent the past few months campaigning to unseat the red-green government, not join them.
The option discussed the least until this point, the "Jamaica" coalition, would put the CDU/CSU, the FDP and the Green Party together. Such a coalition has never existed, neither on a federal or state level, and experts say it would be surprising if it was tried out for the first time on the federal level.
Merkel has been willing to discuss coalition possibilities with every party. Green Party chief Joschka Fischer has appeared less enthusiastic. Though he said Sunday night that he has no problem discussing possibilities, he doesn't see a Jamaica coalition, named so for the three parties' colors black (CDU), green and yellow, as realistic.