Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The exit polls were released after the last of the midnight polling booths closed in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region
Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be challenging for a fourth term in office after the final weekend of general election polls in Germany.
Her CDU party and its allies, the CSU, have won 32.5% of the vote, according to exit polls.
But anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has succeeded in entering parliament for the first time, with 12.6% of the vote, the pollsters say.
Germany’s two major parties have been left in a deeply weakened state, observers say.
Merkel, a CDU veteran, would likely face a rearguard action led by her vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, who is the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader.
However, both the SPD and the AfD have sharply criticized each other in the wake of the elections, in an increasingly acrimonious “second-round election”.
Merkel has hailed the “unprecedented success” of her alliance in a “stand-off between the radical forces” in Europe and the rest of the world.
But the bloc’s breakthrough was tempered by its loss of eight seats in the Bundestag to the AfD – a result which threatens to weaken the presence of the coalition in the Bundestag.
New challenges for Merkel
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Merkel said the exit polls were better than expected for her CDU and CSU
Despite their failure to remain in power, the CDU and CSU are expected to prove instrumental in governing a minority government.
Who did well and who did badly?
On a national scale, the CDU is now the biggest party with 41% of the vote, but is likely to lose its traditional power to form a coalition.
That could be solved by having both the CDU and the SPD in some sort of a minority government, or even seeking another coalition with the Greens.
The SPD stands at 20%, down from last year’s disastrous election result of 24.6%, but gained enough seats in the Bundestag to keep any possibility of continuing with its historic allies.
Greens seats in parliament gained by 0.7%.
AfD had the best result among the new young parties – up from 8.7% last year to 12.6%
The group is riding a wave of anger over Germany’s record influx of more than a million refugees in 2015.
Analysis by Christian Wootliff BBC News
Views on other issues in the country don’t really have much say in who wins the top post. When the result comes in, the pictures and intangibles that define German politics – the rivalry between Ms Merkel and her heir apparent, Mr Gabriel, and the social struggles and old grudges over who controls the bigger oil producer, the superstate of North Rhine-Westphalia – will get more coverage. But those are far more significant in a longer, regional game.
Views of AfD, which looks set to enter the Bundestag for the first time, will not exactly shape German government policy either, according to the BBC’s German affairs correspondent, Jim Muir.
Ms Merkel wants to move on with her legacy, and strengthen her own position, even if only temporarily.
Coalition ideas between her CDU and the SPD look to be frozen for now, while they both wrangle to try to win some kind of deal with the Greens.
“While the CDU could look to expand its liberal and business-friendly allies, it would have to overcome the SPD’s fears of being seen as anti-AfD,” Mr Muir said.
“But the experience in 2018 suggests that progressives may not be eager to share power with these parties. They, too, seem unlikely to help the SPD recapture its lost ground.”
One reason the Greens failed to perform as well as expected is that the party’s vote fell among those over the age of 65.
An exit poll by broadcaster ARD found 73% of the pensioners living in the Rhineland-Palatinate region who voted chose the CDU, the TV channel reported.
But others over the age of 65 seem to have decided they wanted to return the country to the status quo ante before the migrant crisis of 2015. The exit poll suggests the AfD was supported by those over 65.
Where will a left-wing government put place?
It is hard to imagine the SPD, the SPD, SPD, SPD sitting with the CSU in the strongest ruling group.
PSD Party says it wants a minimum wage