Partial results in Germany's elections showed Chancellor Angela Merkel on her way to a third term in office with voters close to awarding her conservatives a historic absolute majority in parliament.
Projections by ARD and ZDF television put Ms. Merkel's Christian Democrats at more than 42 percent of the vote - stronger than the combined opposition parties that won enough support to enter parliament.
If that result is confirmed by the final count, it would allow the chancellor's conservative bloc - the Christian Democratic Union and Bavarian Christian Social Union - to govern Germany without a coalition partner.
Center-left challenger Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats trailed well behind with up to 26.5 percent.
The polls put Ms. Merkel's coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats, at 4.7 percent - below the minimum five percent threshold to keep their seats in parliament. The Alternative for Germany - a new party calling for an "orderly breakup" of the 17-member eurozone - held at 4.9 percent, also uncertain of winning seats.
If the current coalition fails to win a parliamentary majority, the likeliest outcome is a switch to a Merkel-led partnership with the Social Democrats. The two are traditional rivals, but governed Germany together in Ms. Merkel's first term after an inconclusive 2005 election.
"This is a super result," Ms. Merkel told cheering supporters. "We will do everything together in the next four years to make them successful years for Germany."
Nearly 62 million Germans are eligible to elect the lower house of parliament, which in turn chooses the chancellor.
Ms. Merkel's nearly certain third term as chancellor cements her place in history as one of the longest-serving and most influential European leaders in the postwar era.
The election is being closely watched across the continent. In southern Europe - and especially, Greece - Germany continues to be vilified as the country that has forced austerity on the European Union, and many single out Chancellor Merkel.