Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance has finished first in Germany's elections, exit polls suggest, putting her in a position to lead the country for a historic fourth term.
Merkel’s bloc of the Christian Democratic Party and the Bavarian-only Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) won between 32.5 and 33.5 percent of the vote in the September 24 elections, according to polls conducted for public television channels ARD and ZDF.
The polls indicated that the Social Democrats (SPD) led by Martin Schulz gained between 20 and 21 percent support -- a post-World War II low.
They also suggested that the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) emerged as Germany's third-strongest party with 13 to 13.5 percent support.
Merkel will now try to form a coalition government, a process that could take months.
The SPD’s deputy leader, Manuela Schwesig, said the party would go into opposition, putting an end to the current coalition with Merkel.
AfD's performance means that the anti-immigrant party is on track to have a seat at the Bundestag for the first time.
It is also the first time in 60 years that a far-right party is expected to win representation in the Bundestag, but all other German parties have ruled out working politically with the AfD.
Both Merkel, a pastor's daughter who grew up in communist East Germany, and Schulz have called on the electorate to resist the AfD, which has grown in popularity in the midst of an influx of around 1 million mostly Muslim migrants and refugees.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, also a Social Democrat, warned that "for the first time since the end of the Second World War, real Nazis will sit in the German parliament."
The Greens, the Free Democratic Party, and the Left Party were also poised to pass the 5-percent hurdle to enter the Bundestag