BERLIN (AP) — With Angela Merkel's conservatives five seats short of a parliamentary majority, her possible new partners aren't rushing to join her in a new German coalition government.
Merkel enjoys sky-high popularity but allies in her two previous coalitions have ended up the worse for wear after the experience. Voters kicked her latest partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, out of Parliament altogether in Sunday's election.
She will now need an alliance with one of two center-left rivals — and either will doubtless demand major concessions as the price for taking the risk, with coalition talks likely to drag on for weeks.
The likeliest outcome is a "grand coalition" of Merkel's Union bloc with the center-left Social Democrats of Peer Steinbrueck. But they emerged badly weakened from a similar alliance in Merkel's first term.
Germans prize stability so it's in no party's interest to be seen as obstructing a new government to the point that the country has to hold a new election. But neither the Social Democrats nor the other possible partner, the environmentalist Greens, are natural Merkel allies.
"The Social Democrats aren't queuing up or making applications to be the successor after Merkel ruined her previous coalition parter," party chairman Sigmar Gabriel said Monday, adding that there is "nothing automatic" about joining a grand coalition.
"You'll have to ask (Merkel's party) whether it's ready to pay a price," he told reporters. "The ball is with Merkel."
Germany has no tradition of minority governments and Merkel made clear she has no intention of changing that. Still, she will likely be kept waiting to start her third term. In 2005, it took two months before she was sworn in as chancellor of her first grand coalition.
"Thoroughness goes before speed," Merkel told reporters when asked Monday how long the process might take. "Germany needs a stable government, and we will fulfill this task."
During the campaign, Merkel rejected proposals from the two center-left parties for tax increases on high earners and a mandatory national minimum wage. She argued that both would hurt the economy.
Her rivals, meanwhile, pledged to scrap a benefit for stay-at-home parents that the outgoing government introduced at the insistence of social conservatives in Merkel's bloc.
Europe's debt crisis may be less problematic. While the Social Democrats and Greens have criticized her approach to the eurozone debt crisis, they voted for her policies in Parliament.