Berlin: Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives secured a fourth consecutive term in office on Sunday in an election that brought a far-right party into the German parliament for the first time in more than half a century, exit polls indicated.
After shock results last year, from Britain's vote to leave the European Union to the election of U.S. president Donald Trump, many look to Merkel to rally a bruised liberal Western order and lead a post-Brexit Europe.
Merkel's conservative bloc - her Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU) - won 32.5 percent of the vote, making them by far the largest parliamentary group, according to an exit poll for the broadcaster ARD.
Their closest rivals, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), slumped to 20.0 percent - a new post-war low. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) stunned the establishment by finishing third and entering parliament for the first time with 13.5 percent.
Merkel, Europe's longest-serving leader, joins the late Helmut Kohl, her mentor who reunified Germany, and Konrad Adenauer, who led Germany's rebirth after World War Two, as the only post-war chancellors to win four national elections.
She must now form a coalition government - an arduous process that could take months as all potential partners are unsure whether they really want to share power with her.
The AfD's expected entry into the national parliament is likely to herald an era of more robust debate in German politics, a departure from the steady, consensus-based approach that has marked the post-war period.
Migrant crisis under control
In regional votes last year, Merkel's conservatives suffered setbacks to the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which profited from resentment at her 2015 decision to leave German borders open to over one million migrants.
Those setbacks made Merkel, a pastor's daughter who grew up in Communist East Germany, wonder if she should even run for re-election.
But with the migrant issue under control this year, she has bounced back and thrown herself into a punishing campaign schedule, presenting herself as an anchor of stability in an uncertain world.
Read more at: Latest in world | Puerto Rico dam on verge of collapse after hurricane