Berlin, Germany - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a third term in elections, but her conservatives may be forced to govern in a "grand coalition" with the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP), exit polls say.
The surveys came minutes after polls closed in Germany where tens of millions of voters cast their ballots for Sunday's parliamentary elections.
Merke hailed the "super result" and said "together we will do everything in the next four years to again make them successful years for Germany".
Public opinion polls in the past week had shown Germany’s three major left-of-centre parties running neck-and-neck with Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its coalition partner in the current government, the Free Democratic Party (FDP).
According to the polls, the FDP got 4.7 percent of the vote, short of the five percent needed to retain seats in parliament.
Withe FDP falling short, a coalition of Germany’s two biggest parties, the CDU and SPD, seems likely, in a reprise of the tandem that ruled Germany from 2005-2009, during Merkel’s first term as chancellor.
"It was to be expected," said teacher Judith Rang, who voted for the Social Democrats. "But I'm relatively indifferent. I hope that the FDP is out [of the Bundestag]."
"It seems like both parties know that they have to form a grand coalition," Dr Marcel Lewandowsky, a political scientist at the Helmut Schmidt University of Hamburg, told Al Jazeera. "It even seems like the SPD had made peace with that."
Since the last elections in 2009, Germany has witnessed steadily falling unemployment and a strong economy, compared to the woes of its eurozone neighbours.
But the SPD’s chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbruck, had criticised Merkel’s government for failing to stem inequality and taking an overly harsh approach towards indebted eurozone countries.
In the left-leaning district of Kreuzberg, Berlin - where just 12 per cent voted for Merkel's CDU in 2009 - several voters echoed Steinbruck’s concerns, telling Al Jazeera that social justice issues were their primary concern.
One of them, Mara L – a Kreuzberg resident who declined to give her last name – said she was voting for the anti-capitalist Left party.
The eurozone bailouts passed during Merkel's tenure have only aided the banks, she said, not the people.
In the south-central Berlin neighbourhood of Tempelhof, the mood was friendlier towards the ruling coalition.
Ralf Horstkoetter, an engineer, told Al Jazeera he thought Merkel had done a "good job" in office, citing her stances on taxes and foreign politics.
Although anecdotal evidence suggested strong voter participation – officials at two polling stations said turnout was higher than in 2009 – Sunday's election seemed to be a low-energy affair. Aside from the ubiquitous election posters, few visual cues suggested that this was a special day.
Many voters complained that few real differences separated Germany’s major parties.
Michael Stark, who sells bicycles at Berlin's Bergmannstrasse flea market, is one such non-voter.
He described Germany's political parties as being "all pirates, all pigs", decrying the lack of a national minimum wage and what he told Al Jazeera were high poverty rates.
Among the only ways Merkel could be ousted as chancellor is if the SPD, the Greens, and the Left team up - but this seems unlikely, as the SPD has ruled out forming a coalition with the Left.
With additional reporting by Al Jazeera's Sam Bollier in Berlin