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by Marzia De Giuli
ROME, May 26 (Xinhua) -- Italian voters showed their support to the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Sunday's European elections in which his center-left Democratic Party (PD) gained as much as 40.8 percent of the votes, according to official results which came out on Monday.
"Italians have realized the importance of strengthening PD in order to be stronger in Europe," Debora Serracchiani, an influential member of PD and president of Friuli Venezia Giulia autonomous region, said. She defined the victory as "extraordinary."
Renzi committed his first comment to a social network. "A historic result. (I am) moved and determined," the statement read. "Now get to work for an Italy which changes Europe," it added.
Political observers described the result as unexpected. In the pre-election surveys, the PD, a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES), was first but was followed closely by the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) of Beppe Grillo, which stopped at 21.1 percent.
The opposition party of three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi, center-right Forza Italia (FI), came third with 16.8 percent, followed by the regionalist Northern League, which gained 6.1 percent, and the government's junior partner, the New Center-Right (NCD), with 4.3 percent.
"Renzi, not the PD, was the real winner of this election," Aldo Cazzullo, an author and columnist of Corriere della Sera newspaper, said. "Italians have entrusted themselves to a 39-year-old leader who was being seen as an outsider by his own party until one year ago."
According to official electoral results across the 28 member states of the European Union (EU), Italy was the only state where the center-left triumphed in the elections, Cazzullo noted. In his view, voters supported what he defined as "the product of a change."
Charismatic Renzi became Italy's third straight unelected premier in February, after a rapid rise in a country distinguished by its ageing political class. Though he was strongly criticized by some senior members of PD, his rise was seen as a sign of renewal promising dynamism and hope.
"The M5S has undoubtedly lost ... it has made clear communication and strategy mistakes," Marco Travaglio, the vice director of il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper and a frequent commentator, said in an interview with La7 television.
Despite coming second, the M5S's result was far away from what expected by Grillo, who days ago had called himself confident the M5S could surpass PD with a late surge. The web-based movement had achieved a clamorous 25 percent of the vote in last year's national election.
However Travaglio warned that now many difficulties lie ahead of Renzi, who will have to keep faith with his very challenging promise of reforms to revive the Italian stagnant economy and push the European Union (EU) to shift from a policy of austerity to a policy of growth.
More than 57 percent of the 49 million Italians entitled to vote went to the polls to select 73 representatives in the 751-member European Parliament (EP), weeks before the Mediterranean country will take over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU from July 1.
Xinhua is China's state-run news agency.
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