Ooooh. This is getting interesting.

Following earlier BBC reports of the likely result being a hung parliament with a CDU plurality, Der Spiegel now has exit polls showing a slim SPD lead the major parties dead even. By the time you read this, wharever I last typed will be out of date, because polls are vacillating between which of the two main parties they are projecting to has the most seats in the new Bundestag.

Both party leaders are claiming victory and therefore the right to make the first attempt to form a coalition government.

A by-election in one Dresden constituency, which will be held in two weeks’ time, may be deciding. The candidate for the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party in that constituency had died during the campaign.

If the Bundestag fails to elect a government after three tries, the President can appoint a minority government. For the time being, though, coalition speculation is the main topic of discussion.

Speaking on a television debate Schröder told Merkel he would not form a Grand Coalition led by her. The Liberals are also ruling out joining the red-green government to form a “traffic-light coalition”. We’ll see how long those commitments last as the horse-trading that will occur this week.

Both major parties are rejecting a deal with the new Left Party. Of course, they, together with the free-market Liberal FDP, have been the major benefitiaries of the major parties’ losses compared with the 2002 result.

Still, the Left Party is now in the position to save the current Government by joining it to form a red-red-green coalition. That outcome is likely to be politically untenable for Schroeder, though, becuase it means letting ex-Communists and rebels from his own party’s left wing into government.

Der Spiegel has published a screen-grab mocking the BBC for misinterpreting the results earlier today when a clearer picture was already available in the German media. The best English-language source for news on this is probably the Deutsche Welle English service, which has a streaming broadcast (RealAudio). Der Spiegel provides the inevitable red-and-blue map of consituency (direct mandate) results.

The CDU appears to have held my constituency in North-Rhine Westphalia.