German Chancellor Angela Merkel enters the final week of campaigning for this month's election with her conservatives enjoying a commanding lead in opinion polls and the focus now switching to the battle she faces to try to forge a new coalition.
Indeed, after edging her way to a projected victory on September 24 with a skilled and sedate campaign, Merkel's possible struggle to form a coalition after the election raises the risk of a period of political instability in Europe's biggest economy.
Opinion polls point to Merkel's current coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), suffering a painful election night with the threat of new elections hanging over talks to form a new government.
The expected success of the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) becoming the first major anti-foreigner party to enter Germany's national parliament since World War II could add to the raw post-election mood. Raucous protests at Merkel's election rallies by AfD supporters and other right-wing groups outraged by her generous refugee stance have been standouts in the otherwise listless campaign.
But barring any major unforeseen event, political analysts are not expecting any dramatic shift in the support for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies or their SPD rivals in the campaign's final days.
At 36%, the CDU/CSU enjoys a 13-percentage point lead over the SPD, according to a weekly poll published by German public TV station ZDF on Friday.
This means the real fight will be which party emerges as the third major political force in the country at the election and possibly become a potential coalition partner for Merkel's conservatives.
At the same time, the polls also underline the very limited coalition options for SPD chief Martin Schulz, whose campaign calling for social justice failed to fire up voters at a time when unemployment is at a record low and the economy is turning in a solid performance.
A new coalition between Merkel's conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), which is expected to return to parliament this month after being wiped out of the Bundestag at the last election in 2013, could be the path of least resistance for Merkel.
The FDP was Merkel's coalition partner during her second term and is now part of the CDU-led government in North Rhine Westphalia, which is Germany's most populous state and often seen as a model for national governments. But with the FDP currently polling at 10% in Friday's ZDF poll, analysts doubt that a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition would have a parliamentary majority.
Instead, it could mean Merkel heading up post-war Germany's first-ever minority government, which could end up triggering fresh elections in a nation averse to political instability.
Green party leader Cem Ozdemir might be already casting himself in the role of foreign minister in a new Merkel government but forging a CDU/CSU-Greens coalition could be very difficult, considering the distrust between the CSU and the Greens' left faction.
Apart from wide differences between the parties in areas such as tax, energy and migration, a CDU/CSU-Green coalition could also fall short of a parliamentary majority.
A rerun of Merkel's coalition with the SPD, which currently holds about 80 per cent of the seats in the present parliament, remains the most viable option for the 63-year-old, who has been in power since 2005. But Niedermayer said that if the SPD falls below the historic low of 23 per cent it chalked up at the 2009 election, the SPD leadership would face a fight to convince the party faithful to back another term as the junior member of a Merkel-led coalition.
Only the failure of coalition talks with other parties and the threat of fresh elections might help the SPD leaders to draw the rank-and-file in behind teaming up with Merkel again, added the political analyst. The SPD's other choice would be to try to recast the party's political identity by going into opposition.
This would leave one other option for Merkel, which would be leading the country into uncharted political waters by trying to hammer out post-war Germany's first-ever three-party national coalition comprising the CDU/CSU, Greens and FDP.