BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel scored a stunning personal triumph in Germany’s national elections Sunday, as voters handed her a clear validation of her leadership — and an all but certain third term — by giving her conservative party its best showing in 20 years, teetering even on the brink of an absolute majority, exit polls indicated.
Projections from both main German television networks showed Merkel’s Christian Democrats, together with their sister party in Bavaria, falling tantalizingly close to an absolute majority, which would make her the first chancellor since Konrad Adenauer in 1957 to win one.
Still, projections indicated that Merkel would probably fall two or three seats shy, and a collapse of her coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, meant that the chancellor would probably have to build a new coalition.
The result was likely to mean more paralysis for Europe as its most important country engages in weeks of horse-trading to form what was likely to be a grand coalition with her main opponents on the left, the Social Democrats, who did not perform as well as they had hoped Sunday and who may prove to be reluctant partners for fear of losing further luster in a government dominated by Merkel.
President François Hollande of France was swift to congratulate the chancellor on “success in the federal election” and invited her to Paris as soon as possible — a clear indication of the eagerness with which Germany’s most important partners awaited the election result.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who with Merkel has guided Germany and thus Europe through the euro crisis, was swift to go on television and assure European partners that the government in Berlin would continue to play a leading role. But what no one knows is exactly how much fiscal and political unity a new Merkel government would want.
For the moment, however, the exceptionally strong showing left the chancellor and her party exuberant. Rarely has Merkel looked as buoyant as she did when she appeared onstage at her party headquarters after projections were announced.
Her supporters wildly cheered “Angie! Angie!” and applauded solidly for two minutes, before she thanked party workers, particularly young volunteers, her campaign manager, aides in the chancellery and — most unusually — her husband, Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist who generally shuns the limelight.
“It was a super result,” Merkel said. “It is too early to say what we will do. We will discuss it tomorrow when we know the final result, but we can already celebrate tonight. Because we were great!”
Projections tallied by the ARD public network and based on exit polls, which in Germany have proved exceptionally accurate in the past, showed Merkel’s Christian Democrats winning more than 42 percent of the vote, a gain of more than 8 percent, followed by the Social Democrats with nearly 26 percent of the vote.
An exultant Ursula von der Leyen, as employment minister the most powerful woman in Merkel’s Cabinet, told German television, “this is our best result in 20 years.”