BERLIN Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives hope to form a coalition with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens in Schleswig-Holstein after a decisive election victory in the north German state on Sunday.
The FDP been a frequent partner for the conservatives at national level, and Merkel will seek a fourth term in office in federal elections in September for which Sunday's vote strengthened her hand.
"It's clear to me that we need a change in government in Schleswig-Holstein. That's what the people want," Daniel Guenther, the lead candidate of the chancellor's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the state, told broadcaster ARD.
"Now it's up to me to have talks with the FDP and the Greens."
The CDU raised its share of the vote in the state to 32 percent while the Social Democrats (SPD) - her main rival in September - dropped to 27.2 percent, according to a preliminary vote count.
The parties both polled just over 30 percent in the previous election in 2012, which produced a three-way governing coalition led by the SPD and including the Greens and the South Schleswig Party (SSW), which represents the ethnic Danish minority.
Guenther said that Merkel, in a phone call on Sunday, "encouraged us to make a change in government visible" in the state, adding that a tie-up with the SPD was "the last choice" for the CDU.
The FDP won 11.5 percent on Sunday.
At national level, the liberals have served as junior coalition partner to the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, for almost half of federal Germany's post-war history.
The FDP dropped below the 5 percent threshold for legislative representation in the 2013 national election but is expected to exceed that mark in September.
Wolfgang Kubicki, the top FDP candidate in the state, on Monday told reporters the prospects for a three-way coalition with the conservatives and the SPD were "close to zero."
He also ruled out supporting a continuation of the leadership of current SPD state premier Torsten Albig.
The top Greens candidate told ARD her party would prefer a tie-up with the SPD and FDP but would talk with all potential partners.
Guenther said he remained hopeful that the CDU could find common ground with the pro-environment Greens on immigration, child care and financial issues.
Jens Spahn, deputy finance minister and a senior CDU member, told broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk that a federal coalition with the Greens and the FDP might also be an option, though the Greens are unlikely to match the 12.9 percent they polled in Schleswig-Holstein at national level.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by John Stonestreet)