By GEIR MOULSON
BERLIN (AP) â¿¿ Chancellor Angela Merkel led her conservatives to a stunning victory in Germany's election Sunday, a personal triumph that cements her position as Europe's most powerful leader. However, she will need to reach out to center-left rivals to form a new government after her coalition partner crashed out of Parliament.
Merkel's Union bloc scored its best result in 23 years to put her on course for a third term, winning 41.5 percent of the vote and finishing only five seats short of an absolute majority in the lower house.
The 59-year-old benefited from a strong economy and low unemployment that have helped keep her personal popularity sky-high â¿¿ a contrast with the string of leaders who have lost their jobs in other European countries since the continent's debt crisis erupted three years ago. A new coalition probably won't result in any major shifts in German policy, though it could bring a slightly softer tone to managing the crisis.
Merkel, Germany's chancellor since 2005 and the de facto leader of the European crisis response that has mixed aid with austerity, told supporters it was "a super result." She wouldn't immediately speculate about the shape of the next government, but made clear she plans to serve a full term.
"I see the next four years in front of me and I can promise that we will face many tasks, at home, in Europe and in the world," Merkel said during a television appearance with other party leaders.
Despite the scale of her win, governing isn't likely to get easier for Merkel.
Her partners of choice, the pro-business Free Democrats, won only 4.8 percent of the vote. They fell short of the 5 percent needed to win seats in Parliament for the first time in Germany's post-World War II history, paying the price for frequent governing infighting and their failure to secure tax cuts they pledged before going into government four years ago.