Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative party led European elections in Italy but by far less than expected, after scandals about his love life weighed on his campaign.
Projections by Italian media updated early on Monday gave Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) between 35 and 35.6 percent of the Italian vote, well below the roughly 40 percent forecast and down from last year's general election triumph.
The billionaire had voiced hopes of winning up to 45 percent of the vote. He did not immediately comment.
"I'm very unhappy with the forecasts," Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said, adding, like other Berlusconi allies, that he was confident the official tally would show better results. He blamed lower voter turnout for any poor showing.
Opposition politician Franco Marini, the former Senate president, said, "If the PDL halts at 35 percent, it's a defeat."
But the official tally, with about 40 percent of voting sections reporting, gave Berlusconi's party just 33.4 percent of the total against 28.2 percent for the main opposition Democratic Party (PD), the interior ministry said.
The centre-left PD also did better in last year's general election and smaller parties appeared to be the only real winners in the EU vote, including Berlusconi's coalition ally, the anti-immigrant Northern League.
Unlike elsewhere in Europe, Berlusconi did not suffer an obvious backlash in opinion polls ahead of the vote over his handling of the euro zone's third largest economy, even as GDP contracted at a record pace in the first quarter.
Instead the election campaign turned personal after his wife announced her plans for divorce and accused Berlusconi of having an improper relationship with a teenage model.
The 72-year-old politician has announced plans to take legal action over the publication of some photos on the love scandal by a paparazzi photographer, which he said showed nothing improper and were a violation of the privacy of his guests.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Haziran 2009, 14:16