German politicians have voted to re-elect Angela Merkel as Chancellor for a fourth, and likely final, term that may prove her most challenging yet, as she takes charge of a fragile coalition with her personal standing diminished.
- This is widely expected to be Ms Merkel's last term as Chancellor
- She is expected to address challenges such as a potential Europe-US trade war
- There will be new faces in the finance, foreign, economy and interior ministries
The vote came in at 364 to 315, with nine abstentions, in favour of re-electing Ms Merkel, a humbling start as the coalition of her conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) has 399 votes in the Bundestag Lower House of Parliament.
"I accept the vote," said a beaming Merkel, 63.
In office since 2005, she has dominated Germany's political landscape and steered the European Union through economic crisis.
But her authority was dented by her decision in 2015 to commit Germany to an open-door policy on migration, resulting in an influx of more than 1 million people.
Ms Merkel will head a much-changed new Cabinet, with the governing parties — which are traditional rivals — keen to send signals of renewal after a September election in which all lost significant ground.
There are new faces in the most important posts — the finance, foreign, economy and interior ministries.
The same parties have governed for the past four years, but putting together the new administration has been unprecedentedly hard work.
Wednesday's parliamentary vote came 171 days after the election, nearly double the previous record.
The Social Democrats initially planned to go into opposition after crashing to their worst result since World War II, but Germany's President nudged them into a reluctant about-turn after Ms Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed in November.
Ms Merkel was able to take office only after two-thirds of the Social Democrats' members approved in a ballot the coalition deal clinched last month.
At least 35 coalition politicians did not support her on Wednesday, though that was in line with results at the beginning of her two previous "grand coalitions" of Germany's biggest parties.
She will have to hold together what is potentially her most fragile coalition yet in what is widely expected to be her last term, while also addressing challenges such as a potential Europe-US trade war and seeking agreement with France and others on the future of a fractious European Union.
Thorsten Faas, a political science professor at Berlin's Free University, said the coalition was likely to last until 2021 as scheduled and noted that the governing parties had demonstrated they could work together.
"A firm foundation, and I think this Government has one, is important to be able to work in uncertain times," Mr Faas told ZDF television.
"So I think there is some reason for optimism."
Ms Merkel was due to meet President Frank-Walter Steinmeier before returning to the Bundestag to be sworn in.
Ministers will then be sworn in later in the day — almost six months after last September's national election in which both coalition partners lost support to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).