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Quebec separatist party wins poll: TV projections

05 september 2012, 17:56
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Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Quebecois delivers her victory speech. ©AFP
Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Quebecois delivers her victory speech. ©AFP
Separatists in Canada's Quebec province scored an election win Tuesday, with Premier Jean Charest losing his seat as his unpopular Liberals were ousted from power, AFP reports citing television networks.

The dramatic results came after months of nightly student protests and if the vote forecasts hold true, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois, 63, would become the first woman premier of the mostly French-speaking province.

Quebec's split from the rest of Canada, however, is unlikely in the foreseeable future as most voters appeared more intent on putting an end to nine years of Liberal rule than to securing independence.

Several polling stations were still reporting, but it appeared that Marois will lead a minority government, while Charest's lengthy political career is in ruins.

Regional premier Charest was beaten in his hometown of Sherbrooke by the Parti Quebecois candidate, obtaining 34.7 percent support versus 42.41 percent of the votes cast for his rival Serge Cardin.

Despite a strong record on the economy and a solid campaign, Charest -- only the second Quebec leader since the 1950s to have served three terms -- failed to court voters. His tactics had included fanning fears over independence.

Voters -- tired of the status quo after nearly a decade of Liberal rule marked by corruption scandals and a long-running row over a planned university tuition fees hike -- were seen to be looking for change.

Turnout was strong with nearly six million voters casting ballots for 125 lawmakers, but 40 races were still too close to call late Tuesday.

The electorate appeared to side with the student protestors that may have triggered the election. Leo Bureau-Blouin, was among the fresh faces elected under the PQ banner, beating a Liberal minister to become at 20 the youngest ever member of Quebec's National Assembly.

The middle ground upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), which surged into second place in pre-election public opinion polls, with a message of "change" and an end to the decades-old feuds between separatists and federalists, finished third on election night.

With the first announcements of the PQ's projected win by broadcasters TVA and Radio-Canada, PQ supporters at a concert hall in Montreal roared for joy, waving Quebec flags. Marois is to speak there later when the official election results are expected.

Outside polling stations earlier, voters going to cast their ballots seemed set for a new government.

"I hope that we'll get rid of the old government, it's about time," said Daniel Peterkin in Montreal.

A fortysomething woman who came with a placard that read "vote with your heart" said she dreams of an independent Quebec, "a small country that is easier to govern" and more adept at managing its vast natural resources.

Behind her, Therese Boily, a grandmother who immigrated from France, was skeptical. "Independence? I'm not really for that. Usually, things change for the worse," she told AFP.

The campaign saw the leaders spar over jobs and the economy, healthcare and other social matters.

Charest may have triggered this election to put down the student unrest and avoid the scrutiny of a commission of inquiry into accusations of graft and kickbacks in awarding of government construction contracts.

But his main call to arms was to stop the separatists' rise.

The separatists aim "to pick fights... to demonstrate that it is necessary to hold a referendum as soon as possible to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada," Charest said Monday, warning it would create economic uncertainty.

Quebec twice rejected independence in 1980 and 1995 but federalists only narrowly won the last referendum.

Marois, however, has said she will only hold a third referendum on independence if a win is assured, which is unlikely, given that barely one in three Quebecers currently support secession.

She also faces opposition for a referendum from the Liberals and CAQ, which hold the balance of power in the National Assembly.

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