Italy's ruling centre-left Democratic Party on Monday admitted it had suffered a "clear defeat" in a general election after coming in third according to projections.
"This is a very clear defeat for us," Michele Martina, a minister in the outgoing government, told reporters.
"We are expecting a result below our expectations... This is very clearly a negative result for us," he said.
A centre-left coalition led by the Democratic Party was projected to score just 23.1 percent, after the main right-wing alliance at 35.5 percent and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement at 32.5 percent.
"Voters have spoken very clearly and irrefutably. The populists have won and the Democratic Party has lost," Andrea Marcucci, one of the party's lawmakers in the outgoing parliament, wrote on his Facebook page.
"The party leaves Italy with much better (economic) results than those that came before. We will start again in opposition," he said.
The AGI news agency said party leader Matteo Renzi was now considering resigning -- a possibility he had previously ruled out even if his party lost.