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Germany's 2013 elections were a personal triumph for Angela Merkel - she will be renewed in post for a third consecutive term.
The CDU/CSU even came close to an absolute majority in the Bundestag, but a grand coalition with its Social Democrat (SPD) opponents looms.
The SPD netted their second-worst result since 1945. There was initial joy at the fortunes of the Free Democrats - Merkel's partners in the current ruling coalition - who netted around 4.7 per cent of the vote. But that initial joy faded when their own results filtered in - 25.6 per cent, their second-worst performance since 1945.
Euronews provides essential information on the legislation around these areas. Discover our reports in Germany on poverty in the country, immigration, family policy, economics and other subjects, including portraits of our major parties and candidates.
Angela Merkel - CDU - 59 years old
German Chancellor since November 2005, Angela Merkel is now seeking a third term. She has also been Chair of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) party since 2000.
Angela Dorothea Kasner (her maiden name ) was born in 1954 in Hamburg, but grew up in East Germany in the Brandenburg region. She has a younger sister and brother. Her mother was a teacher and her father - now deceased - a theologian in the Protestant Church. She chose to study physics.
The young Angela was married to Ulrich Merkel for five years. Then in 1984, she met her current husband, chemist Joachim Sauer, whom she married in 1998.
In 1989, towards the end of the GDR, Angela Merkel entered the opposition party Democratic Renewal (Demokratischer Aufbruch or DA), which united with the CDU during the country's reunification in 1990. Merkel won a parliamentary seat in the new parliament of the reunified Germany: she was directly elected in the Stralsund - RÃ¼gen- Grimmen (in the far north of the country) where she remains a candidate today.
In November 1990, then Chancellor Helmut Kohl offered her the post of Minister for Women's Affairs and Youth when she was 36 years old. Four years later, she became Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Reactor Safety. After the CDU lost the 1998 general election, Merkel became general secretary of the party. In the wake of a CDU funding scandal, she faced off against Helmut Kohl, her former mentor.
While some of her critics say she draws her motivation from power, her popularity allows her the reasonably foreseeable prospect of a third term.
Peer SteinbrÃ¼ck - SPD - 66 years old
A former finance minister in Merkel's government, Peer SteinbrÃ¼ck said he would immediately reject any new ministerial portfolio offered to him under a grand coalition led by the Christian Democratic Union Chancellor.
SteinbrÃ¼ck studied economics and worked for various federal departments before becoming a minister in the regional government.
In 2002, he led the regional government of North Rhine-Westphalia in Bavaria before becoming Minister of Finance in 2005.
Since then, the media have criticised his remuneration as a speaker and consultant for several companies while exercising a parliamentary mandate.
His wife Gertrud worked as a professor of biology and politics in Bonn until this summer. The couple have two daughters and a son, now adults.
Gregor Gysi - (The Left) - 65 years old
The head of the Left in the German parliament is one of eight leading candidates in his party. Due to internal divisions, the left party could not agree on just one or two leaders.
Gysi comes from East Germany and has been a member of the SED party since 1967. After the fall of the wall, he fought for the survival of the SED, which then transformed into the PDS and later, Die Linke (Left).
The aim of the lawyer and cattle breeder is a double-digit result for his party in these elections.
A coalition with the SDP, as exists in several regional governments, seems very unlikely at national level.
Gysi is twice married and has three children.
Sarah Wagenknecht - Die Linke (The Left) - 44 years old
Number two in the Die Linke (Left) party - behind Gregor Gysi - Sarah Wagenknecht is also known as "Sarah the Red" for her membership of the Communist Platform (the communist fringe of Die Linke) as well as for her red clothes.
Wagenknecht was born in East Germany. Her mother is German and her father Iranian. She knew very little about him because he was forced to return to his country. After her baccalaureate degree in the GDR, she did not have the right to start her studies at first, but subsequently studied philosophy and economics.
During the election campaign, Wagenknecht declared that no "left camp" would be formed by her party and the SPD. She said there was nothing to choose from between Angela Merkel and "millionaire" Peer SteinbrÃ¼ck regarding social policy.
Wagenknecht is divorced and lives with leftist politician Oskar Lafontaine, aged 70.
JÃ¼rgen Trittin - Greens , 59 years old
Alongside Renate KÃ¼nast, JÃ¼rgen Trittin has chaired the Greens in the German Parliament since 2009.
From 1998 to 2005 as Minister of the Environment under Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, he mostly fought for the release of nuclear and ecological tax reform.
Trittin studied social sciences, and was a member of several Communist groups in the past. He now sits on the left wing of the German Greens, but it is not part of the "Fundis" or "fundamentalists") who reject any participation in government.
Trittin is married with a daughter and a granddaughter .
Katrin GÃ¶ring-Eckardt - Greens - 47 years old
Katrin GÃ¶ring-Eckardt and JÃ¼rgen Trittin are the Greens' two leading figures during the general election campaign. Katrin GÃ¶ring - Eckardt - also known as KGE - comes from Thuringia in eastern Germany. She acted as Vice-President of the German Parliament for many years. She is also part of the management team of the German Protestant Church. She has suspended both these functions during the campaign.
GÃ¶ring-Eckardt, a former student in Protestant theology, has been a member of the Bundestag since 1998. She is married with two sons. At that time the Greens ruled alongside the SPD's Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, KGE championed the Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV social reforms, stressing that the cuts were necessary. Since then, the more left-wing members of her party have accused her of being too conservative.
Rainer BrÃ¼derle - FDP (Liberals) - 68 years old
President of the Liberal caucus in the German Parliament, Rainer BrÃ¼derle - former Minister of Economy from 2009 to 2011 in Merkel's government - did not take part in the first months of the campaign because he was recovering from a injuries sustained in a fall.
The party leader Philipp RÃ¶sler (40) and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (51) are the FDP's two best-known personalities internationally. In polls, the Liberals are credited with about five percent of the vote. They must get more a minimum threshold of votes to enter parliament.
In January, Rainer BrÃ¼derle made headlines when a reporter from Stern magazine, Laura Himmelreich, accused him of harassment by verbally pointing to her chest. This triggered a wide debate in Germany on gender assaults, especially on social networks with the slogan 'Aufschrei' ('Outrage').
In recent weeks, in the countryside, the Liberal leader attacked SPD's SteinbrÃ¼ck by commenting: "You break down about as much as a Fiat Punto, but act as if you were at the wheel of a top-end BMW." In a statement, Fiat said it found this comparison "indecent".
Bernd Lucke - AfD (Alternative pour l'Allemagne, parti anti-euro) - 50 ans
Bernd Lucke a Ã©tÃ© membre de la CDU pendant plus de 30 ans. Il quitte le parti d'Angela Merkel en 2011 parce qu'il considÃ¨re la politique de sauvetage de l'euro comme un Ã©chec.
Le but affichÃ© de l'AfD, parti populiste de droite, est la dissolution ordonnÃ©e de la zone euro et la rÃ©introduction des monnaies nationales en Europe.
Bernd Lucke est l'un des trois prÃ©sidents de son parti mais il est le seul Ã Ãªtre connu sur la scÃ¨ne nationale allemande.
Lors d'un meeting de son parti Ã BrÃªme le 24 aoÃ»t dernier, Lucke a Ã©tÃ© agressÃ© alors qu'il donnait un discours. Il n'a pas Ã©tÃ© blessÃ©.
Bernd Lucke est mariÃ© et il a cinq enfants.