Angela Merkel was facing a struggle to build a Government as Germany reels from a surprise election result that saw a far-right party leap to third place.
The Chancellor is set for a historic fourth term – but her party slumped in the polls and her former coalition partners the Social Democrats walked away to enter opposition after suffering a “crushing defeat”.
Merkel now faces lengthy talks in effort to patch together a fresh coalition deal for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Barvaria-only allies, the Christian Social Union.
She must also face off the challenge from a reinvigorated far right as the hard-line anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) won parliamentary seats for the first time since the second World War.
It comes after an election campaign that focused heavily on migration in the fall-out from the crisis that has seen huge numbers of refugees head towards Europe in recent years.
Mrs Merkel has said does not want to form a minority Government as she wants to offer voters stability and will seek new coalition partners.
Her only plausible option is to strike a three-way coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens.
The combination, which has been dubbed a “Jamaica” coalition because the parties’ colors match those of the Caribbean nation’s flag, has never yet been brought together in the national Government.
A deal will require all three to work out their differences on a range of policies ranging from migration and European financial policy to the major German automobile industry.
The Chancellor must also face the challenge of winning back voters who have turned to the far right AfD, which formed only four years ago but took 12.5% of all votes.
They focused their coverage on nationalist sentiment and criticism of Merkel’s decision to allow in large numbers of migrants in 2015.
Many Germans are shocked and angered at the rise of the AfD, in a country that is still sensitive to the hard right as it deals with the legacy of the Nazis.
Hundreds of protesters gathered on the streets of Frankfurt after the election results were announced on Sunday night.
The party was also caught up in internal turmoil as co-chairwoman Frauke Petry dramatically quit in the middle of a press conference on Monday.
She accusing fellow leaders of failing to position themselves as serious contenders for government at the next general election in 2021.
“We should be open about there being differences of substance in AfD,” Petry she said before walking out.
“An anarchic party … can be successful in opposition, but it cannot make voters a credible offer for government.”
Petry has also been sidelined by other leaders over recent months after urging her party to exclude members who express extremist views, with the aim of attracting moderate voters.
She left without taking questions. Other leaders continued calmly with their news conference.
“I’d like to apologize in the name of my party,” co-chairman Joerg Meuthen said. “This wasn’t discussed with us.”