Voters in the mainly French-speaking province of Quebec have handed an election victory to the anti-separatist Quebec Liberals. Pauline Marois will quit as Parti Quebecois leader after the snap election defeat.
Quebec's first female premier, Pauline Marois, suffered not only overall election defeat in the snap elections she called, she lost her seat as well. Marois, the leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ), said after the preliminary results that she would resign her post at the head of the party.
With 99 percent of the polling stations reporting, the Quebec Liberal Party took 41.4 percent of the vote - translating to 70 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly. The Liberals had repeatedly warned in the election campaign that Parti Quebecois was planning a referendum on regional independence from Canada - if it could turn its minority government into a majority.
"The defeat of our party tonight makes me sad," Marois told supporters. "I am leaving my post."
Marois' PQ had 25.4 percent, and looked on track to win 30 seats in parliament - the party's worst results in terms of seats secured since 1989. The conservative Coalition Avenir Quebec (Coalition for Quebec's Future) - which also opposes a referendum on independence from Canada - was close behind on 23.3 percent and 22 seats, with the leftist Quebec Solidaire a distant fourth.
The Liberal Party's leader, Philippe Couillard, will take over as the province's premier.
"My dear friends, the division is over. Reconciliation has arrived," Couillard told his supporters, pledging to fight for "Quebec's interests, and its attachment to the Canadian federation."
Peladeau promise blights PQ campaign
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a conservative, welcomed the results, saying they "clearly demonstrate that Quebecers have rejected the idea of a referendum and want a government that will be focused on the economy and job creation." He said he "looked forward" to working with the region's new government to these ends.
The PQ was polling strongly when it called the snap elections. Marois had sought to dispel talk of the vote being a precursor for a referendum on sovereignty. She focused on other issues, including the PQ's "charter of values" - a move to stop public employees from wearing Muslim headscarves or other overt religious symbols in public.
Marois' attempt to downplay the independence issue was not helped by prominent PQ candidate Pierre Karl Peladeau on the campaign trail. The wealthy media magnate, who won his seat in Monday's election, pumped his fist in the air at a campaign rally and said that he wanted to "make Quebec a country."
The PQ narrowly won Quebec's last regional elections in 2012, but were seeking to cement their grip on power in parliament.
msh/rg (AFP, AP, Reuters)