Germany took a first decisive step on Wednesday towards forming a new government when its veteran finance minister, conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble, agreed to become president of the parliament, clearing the way for another party to take his job.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will hope that Schaeuble, deeply respected in Germany for helping to steer the euro zone through its debt crisis, can stamp his authority on a fractious Bundestag lower house that will include two more parties after Sunday's federal election.
Merkel must assemble Germany's first three-way coalition since the 1950s after her conservatives lost support and a far-right party, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), entered parliament for the first time in half a century.
In a sign of the challenges ahead, Andrea Nahles, the Social Democrats' newly elected parliamentary leader, told reporters her party would hit conservatives "squarely in the jaw" after four years as junior partner in a Merkel-led "grand coalition".
Merkel's most realistic coalition option now is a deal with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), returning to parliament after a four-year hiatus, and the Greens.
But the parties disagree on issues such as energy, Europe and migration, complicating the path to a so-called "Jamaica" coalition - a reference to the parties' colours: black, yellow and green, which are also those of the Jamaican flag.