BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel may have captured a shock absolute majority in her winning bid for a third term in German elections Sunday, in a first since the 1950s, preliminary estimates indicated.
With the ballots still being counted, forecasts on public television showed Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) within a few seats of their own majority with about 42 percent of the vote.
While Merkel, 59, clinched another four-year stint at the helm Europe's top economy, it remained unclear whether she would govern alone or form a "grand coalition" with her chief rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD).
A preliminary final result was expected early Monday.
Voters turned out in droves to reward Merkel, often called the world's most powerful woman, for steering them unscathed through the debt turmoil that engulfed the eurozone's southern flank.
But they punished her pro-business partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), kicking them out of parliament for the first time since 1949.
Merkel's stunning score - the conservatives' best result since the country's joyous reunification in 1990 - means that she may become the only chancellor to win an absolute majority since Germany's first post-war leader, Konrad Adenauer, in 1957.
"Together we will do everything in the next four years to again make them successful years for Germany," Merkel told cheering CDU members in Berlin.
"The party leadership will discuss everything when we have a final result but we can already celebrate tonight," a beaming Merkel told supporters, including her chemist husband Joachim Sauer, a music lover who so rarely appears in public he is nicknamed "The Phantom of the Opera".