AMID THE wild celebrations at the SPD headquarters on Sunday, more than a few faces seemed lost in contemplation, furrows deepening across their brows as the hours dragged on. Many party officials could not hide the fear that they had just won the mandate from hell.
To Social Democrats of the "New Centre", the victory was too final. The thumping majority for "Red-Green" appears to have ruled out all alternatives, and threatens to swamp Gerhard Schroder and his allies with ideologues from the left.
The biggest challenge to centrist policies will come from Oskar Lafontaine, chairman of the Social Democrat Party.
From his power base in the Saarland, where he is Prime Minister, Mr Lafontaine controls the levers of the party machinery with great skill. He is an old believer, rooted to causes such as subsidising unprofitable coal pits and steel mills.
Latterly, Mr Lafontaine has become a passionate advocate of reform of the international financial system. He is mistrusted by business, but hugely popular with party members.
Mr Lafontaine is set to play a central role in coalition discussions with the Greens. He has been linked to a job as minister of finance. That, however, would damage Mr Schroder's business- friendly image. So Mr Lafontaine is more likely to end up as head of the Social Democrat parliamentary group, traditionally the second most powerful job in the government.
There is no shortage of ambition …