- MONTREAL (AP) -- Quebec's pro-independence government was re-elected Monday
but won only 43 percent of the popular vote, likely to limit its zest for
a quick secession referendum.
- The outcome means a new term of up to
five years for Quebec's charismatic premier, Lucien Bouchard, who says
he will call a referendum on independence whenever he feels the separatist
side can win.
- But he may need to wait a while for what
he calls the "winning conditions." His Parti Quebecois retained
its majority in the legislature but was narrowly outpolled in the popular
vote by its anti-separatist rival, the Quebec Liberal Party.
- With 94 percent of the 23,000 polling
stations reporting late Monday, the separatists had 42.8 percent of the
votes, to 43.6 percent for the Liberals and 12 percent for a third party,
- The separatists were on track to win
77 of the legislature's 125 seats, the Liberals 46 and Democratic Action
one, with one seat to be filled later because the separatist candidate
- The outcome was a virtual replay of 1994,
when the separatists won 77 seats to 47 for the Liberals while each receiving
about 44 percent of the popular vote.
- Bouchard's main rival was Liberal party
leader Jean Charest, who tried to persuade voters that the province would
prosper only if the decades-old threat of secession was abandoned.
- Charest, 40, became an early favorite
when he quit federal politics in March to enter the Quebec race; in English-speaking
Canada he was viewed as the potential savior of national unity.
- But despite his family roots in Quebec,
he was widely perceived by the province's French-speaking majority as more
of an outsider than Bouchard, and less likely to do battle for the province
in any confrontations with the federal government.
- Bouchard, 59, has maintained high popularity
ratings despite overseeing painful spending cuts over the past three years
in a drive to erase Quebec's deficit. Among Francophones, he has never
lost the mythic aura he gained when, after losing a leg and almost dying
from a flesh-eating disease in 1994, he came back to lead the separatists
to near-victory in a 1995 referendum on secession.
- Though Bouchard has served in the federal
Cabinet and federal Parliament, this was the first time he ever ran as
a party leader in Quebec. He was appointed premier without an election
in 1996 after his predecessor, Jacques Parizeau, resigned following the
- There were 5.2 million eligible voters
Monday, and turnout was more than 80 percent even though this was the fourth
province-wide vote in the past five years.
- Analysts had suggested that a landslide
separatist victory -- approaching 50 percent of the popular vote -- would
lead to pressure from Parti Quebecois militants to hold a secession referendum
quickly. Monday's results were considered more likely to prompt a cautious
approach from Bouchard, and perhaps a wait of a year or two before considering
- The separatists have lost secession referendums
twice before, once by a big margin in 1980 and just narrowly in 1995.
- Bouchard, anxious to avoid a third defeat,
said he would call another referendum only when he was convinced the separatists
would win. In the meantime, he says he would seek more autonomy for all
10 provinces, particularly in regard to control over social programs.
- Many Quebeckers supported Bouchard even
though they oppose secession. Polls suggest only about 43 percent of Quebec
voters would support independence now, and about two-thirds do not want
a referendum on secession in the next few years.
- To woo these voters, Bouchard tried to
portray the election as the choice of the most competent leadership, with
the thorny question of a referendum to be addressed at a later date.
- The Liberals' chances clearly were hurt
by the relatively strong showing of Democratic Action, whose leader, 28-year-old
Mario Dumont, retained his seat in the legislature. His party, which appeals
to many young voters, favors greater autonomy for Quebec but stops short
of advocating outright secession.
- About 83 percent of Quebec's 7.4 million
people are French speakers. The rest are divided among English-speakers
with long-term roots in Canada and more recently arrived immigrants from
southern Europe, Asia and elsewhere.
- The long-term crusade for Quebec independence
stems from a feeling among many French Quebeckers that their culture is
different from the rest of Canada, plus a yearning to manage their own
affairs and have their own national symbols.