(CNN)German Chancellor Angela Merkel began the delicate task of building a coalition government Monday, after a bruising election result significantly weakened her authority.
Merkel starts coalition talks with few options after election bruising
Voters deserted her center-right CDU party and its coalition partners, the social democratic SPD, in favor of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other smaller parties.
Even for an arch pragmatist and a skilled negotiator such as Merkel, the fragmented result leaves her little room for maneuver.
Merkel's CDU/CSU grouping gained just 33% of the vote, its lowest share for decades, and needs the support of other parties to govern and pass legislation.
The SPD, which suffered its worst postwar result with 20.5% of the vote, has decided to return to opposition.
It would be unthinkable for Merkel to entertain an alliance with the far-right AfD, which stunned the German political establishment by gaining 13% of the vote and 94 seats out of 709 in the Bundestag.
That leaves a clutch of smaller parties which met the 5% threshold to enter parliament and are vying for influence. They are, from left to right of the political spectrum, the anti-corporation Left party (9.2%), the Green party (8.9%), and the pro-business FDP (10.7%).
The most likely scenario is what has been dubbed the Jamaica coalition of the CDU, the FDP and the Greens (the combination of party colors resembles the Jamaican flag).
Such an alliance would enjoy a healthy majority in parliament -- but the Greens, with strong anti-corporatist elements, and the pro-business FDP are uneasy bedfellows. They are fundamentally opposed on key issues such as immigration and the troubled German car industry.
An alliance between the three parties is not unprecedented: A CDU-FDP-Green coalition operates in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.
The Greens said they were open to talks Monday. Katrin Göring-Eckardt, co-chair of the Greens, said the talks would be tough but that the party would take take the voters' mandate seriously. "We now have talks ahead of us and certainly difficult and complicated ones, after the SPD said goodbye and see themselves in an opposition role," she said. "But we will negotiate responsibly and seriously."
If Merkel were unable to patch together a deal with the Greens and the FDU, she could form a minority administration with the FDU alone. But that would rely on the tacit support of other parties and would be prone to collapse.
Merkel acknowledged the poor showing for the CDU. "Of course, overall, we had hoped for a better result," she said. "We have a clear mandate to govern, there is agreement on that."
She appeared not to rule out persuading the SPD to stay in government. "I have heard the words of the SPD," but Germany needed a "stable" government, Merkel said at a press conference at her party headquarters in Berlin. She said she would talk soon to the leader of her CSU sister party -- which had briefly considered splitting on Monday morning -- and to representatives of the FDP and the Greens.
Merkel insisted her party would govern with the CSU -- "there is no question about it" -- after speculation emerged about a split.
Her position was helped by the infighting in the AfD, which was thrown into disarray by the walkout of chairwoman Frauke Petry during a press conference called to celebrate its success.
But with her own power base severely weakened, she is going to find herself torn from all sides in the weeks to come.