Nine-Year Hold on Provincial Government Ended by Liberals' Win



  Artículo de DeNeen L. Brown en “The Washington Post” del 15.04.2003

 Lasalle, Quebec, April 14 -- Quebec's Liberal Party won the vote in provincial elections today, according to early results, defeating the governing Parti Quebecois and eliminating for the near future the possibility of the province separating from Canada.

With 15,300 of 20,991 polling stations reporting, the Liberals had 45 percent of the popular vote, the Parti Quebecois had 34 percent and the Action Democratique had 19 percent. The Liberals appeared to have gained support from voters who were ready for a change in government. The Parti Quebecois, which was founded in 1968 on the promise of making Quebec independent of the rest of Canada, had governed for nine years.

The Liberals also appeared to have connected with Francophone voters, taking seats in several tight races against the Parti Quebecois.

Jean Charest, the leader of the Liberals, barely won a seat tonight in his district in Sherbrooke against Marie Malavoy, a member of the Parti Quebecois.

"It's a strong fight in Sherbrooke, but for the Parti Quebecois on a national level, it is harder tonight," Malavoy said in a CBC interview. "People want a change. They don't know for what change. It's not that they don't think we did a good government . . . but tonight they say we might try something else."

Bernard Landry, Quebec's premier and the leader of the Parti Quebecois, was able to hold on to his seat. Mario Dumont of the Action Democratique, whose party began the 33-day campaign topping the polls but fell quickly behind the two other parties, also won his seat tonight as his party gained three seats.

Charest and Landry fought a hard campaign until the final hours before election day. Landry told voters that it was not necessary to vote for change just for the sake of change. Dumont insisted that his campaign was still viable and was hoping to capture enough seats to gain official status -- 12 seats -- in Quebec's 125-member National Assembly.

The Liberals began gaining in polls, even among French-speaking voters, after a widely watched debate on March 31. During the debate, Charest, who had for much of his career been an outsider, appeared to be more aggressive than his rivals. It became clear to voters that he might be an effective leader and a sound alternative to the Parti Quebecois.

Dumont and his Action Democratique Party, long a distant third in Quebec politics, began the campaign leading in the polls. But as the campaign progressed, the party began a slow slide as voters paid more attention to its platform. His message was considered too free-market, analysts said. He promised a flat tax, school vouchers and privatized health care.

"They collected a few popular, snapshot ideas that proved to be disastrous," said Gerard Bouchard, professor of history at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi. "People had a feeling they were going to destroy the social protection system that was erected. People are attached to the idea that the state has an important role to play in protecting the citizens."

During the campaign, Landry cast his party as favoring not just independence, but solutions to social issues. He promised parents a four-day workweek, for instance. On the sovereignty issue, he walked a line between not appearing too ready to call another referendum -- a 1995 vote on independence failed by a few thousand votes -- and appeasing hard-liners within his party who want sovereignty at all costs.

This weekend, he campaigned hard in many parts of Quebec, warning voters that if the Liberals won, it would defeat any hope for Quebec's independence. The Liberals dominate national politics in Canada and favor keeping the country together.

Landry sent a message to Parti Quebecois volunteers, asking each of them to go out and persuade three people to vote for the party. "Do not let Jean Charest stop our march to national progress and sovereignty," he warned.

Charest reached out to hard-core supporters of sovereignty who were likely to vote against him. "I have great respect for those who don't share my vision on the future of Quebec," Charest told reporters. "I want Quebecers to know it will always be this way. We will never seek to denigrate these visions."

A steady stream of voters made their way into polling places across the province today. Here in LaSalle, several voters said they voted Liberal.

"We need change in this province," said Gilles Bienvenue, 58, who lost his job when his employer, a steel company, closed. "This is my first time voting Liberal. I'm Parti Quebecois since it was born. . . . Now they are fading away."