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Quebec separatists set for election victory

MONTREAL -- Quebec's separatists look to sweep back into power in elections Tuesday, buoyed by rising frustration with the current leadership and months of student protests over a planned tuition hike.

Voters in the country's only majority French-speaking province will choose 125 lawmakers — and pre-election polls point to the Parti Quebecois (PQ) coming out on top, though without a full majority, a rarity in Canadian politics.

The PQ has been in the opposition since its 2003 defeat by the Liberals, led by Jean Charest, who has served three terms as premier.

Pauline Marois' PQ enjoys 33 percent support, putting it well ahead of Francois Legault's upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), at 28 percent, and the Liberals, at 27 percent, according to a poll Sunday by Leger Marketing.

If those numbers bear out at the ballot boxes, Marois will become Quebec's first female leader, but her prospects of pushing through a referendum on independence for the province are slim.

Voters — tired of the status quo after nine years of Liberal rule, marked by corruption scandals and recent nightly student protests — are seen as looking for change.

The Parti Quebecois's support is as much anti-Charest as it is pro-independence.

The same can be said of the CAQ's surge into second place, with a message of “change” and an end to the old feuds between separatists and federalists.

In the final hours of the campaign, Charest was still struggling to court voters by fanning fears of independence.

The separatists aim “to pick fights ... to demonstrate that it is necessary to hold a referendum as soon as possible to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada,” he warned on Monday, repeating allegations he has made in the past.

Marois, however, has said she will only hold a third referendum on independence if a win is assured, which is unlikely, given that barely one in three Quebecers currently support secession.

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