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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Quebec Premier Jean Charest, a leading opponent of separation from Canada, would win reelection in the French-speaking province if he triggers an election next week as widely expected, two polls suggested on Tuesday.
Reelection would push further into the future any possibility of Quebec separatists forcing a third referendum on independence from Canada. Their first two attempts to break up Canada, in 1980 and 1995, failed. Separatists must be in power to be able to launch a referendum.
A cautionary note for Charest is that he will have to overcome the opposition of 70 to 75 percent of the population to his calling an election just 19 months after the last one.
"Mr. Charest will have to show that he is launching the campaign for reasons that are not partisan," La Presse newspaper quoted its CROP pollster Claude Gauthier as saying.
In March 2007 he won a minority of seats in the Quebec National Assembly, garnering just a few percentage points more in the popular vote than the other two parties.
Now his Quebec Liberal Party is six to eight points ahead of the separatist Parti Quebecois and 18 to 21 points ahead of the Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ), possibly even enough to get a majority government.
The provincial Liberal Party is distinct from the federal Liberal Party, which was thumped in Canada's national election on October 14. The Quebec party is not so much "liberal" as a catch-all for federalists who want to keep Canada united.
Charest said on Monday he had not decided to call an election but implied this would be needed, saying the three parties all had their hands on the steering wheel at this time of economic crisis and wanted to go in different directions.
Quebec media are reporting that he plans to dissolve the legislature on November 5 for an election on December 8.
What has been most striking since the 2007 provincial election is that Charest's Liberals have emerged as the main alternative to the Parti Quebecois (PQ).
In the election, the provincial Liberals won 33 percent of the vote, just two points more than the ADQ, a fiscally and socially conservative party that opposes a sovereignty referendum but also wants to wants to reopen the Canadian Constitution to entrench special powers for Quebec. The PQ took 28 percent of the vote.
Now CROP has the Liberals at 38 percent, the PQ at 32 percent and the ADQ far behind at 17 percent. A Leger poll in the Journal de Montreal has the Liberals even further ahead at 42 percent, the PQ at 34 percent and the ADQ at 14 percent.
The Journal de Montreal concluded that Charest would still need more support to win a majority of seats but CROP's view is that he has a good shot at majority government.
One factor is that between 62 and 66 percent of respondents are satisfied with Charest's government.
Both pollsters surveyed more than 1,000 people, for a margin of error of 3 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
Leger's covered October 24-26, while CROP's covered October 16-26, a period which started just after the federal election and may have been slightly influenced by the results there.
Editing by Peter Galloway