March 8 (Reuters) - The premier of Manitoba won his party's leadership race on Sunday, and will stay on as head of the Western Canadian province, rebuffing a move to replace him from restless legislators amid the government's sliding popularity.
Premier Greg Selinger, a former social worker, won the leadership of the Manitoba New Democratic Party over his former cabinet ministers Theresa Oswald and Steve Ashton.
Oswald, a former teacher, was Selinger's minister of jobs and the economy before resigning last year after criticizing Selinger. Ashton is a longtime provincial politician.
The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) government has been in power since 1999, with Selinger holding the top job since 2009. He led the party in 2011 to a fourth straight majority victory in the farm, manufacturing and mining province.
The next election is expected to be held in early 2016, and some NDP legislators had wanted a fresh face to run against Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister.
Selinger's NDP trails well behind in the polls, with some of the public's dissatisfaction linked to the government raising Manitoba's sales tax.
A Probe Research survey released in December showed the PCs holding the support of 48 percent of decided voters with a comfortable lead over the NDP, who had 26 percent support.
The province has struggled to rein in its deficit spending in recent years, due in part to flooding costs and the fallout of the 2008-09 global financial crisis. (Reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Chris Reese)