Quebec votes, separatists seen losing

Mon Dec 8, 2008 8:50am EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec holds an election on Monday and opinion polls show that separatists who want independence have little chance of winning power.

The minority Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest is set to make major gains and could well win a majority of the 125 seats in Quebec's national assembly.

Polls open at 9:30 a.m. (1430 GMT) and close at 8 p.m. The likely winner should be known by around 10 p.m.

Charest, who won a majority in 2003 and then barely hung onto power in a March 2007 vote, called the election last month on the grounds that he needed a majority government to deal with the worsening effects of the global financial crisis.

"The economic stakes are so great that they transcend everything else," he told reporters on Sunday, after making an appeal to backers of the separatist Parti Quebecois.

The separatist movement peaked in 1995, when the province's then-Parti Quebecois government held a referendum on breaking away from the rest of Canada. The move failed narrowly.

Since then, support in Quebec for breaking away from Canada has gradually faded and is now under 40 percent.

During this election, party leader Pauline Marois promised that, if she were to win, she would not push for an immediate referendum.   Continued...

<p>Quebec Premier and Liberal leader Jean Charest speaks during a rally in Shawinigan, Quebec, December 7, 2008. Quebecers will go to the polls on December 8. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi</p>