MONTREAL — With separatists in Canada's Quebec province poised to wrest power from the ruling Liberals in the upcoming vote, the real contest is for second place, according to the most recent poll Sunday.
After nine years in the opposition, the latest figures show Pauline Marois' Parti Quebecois (PQ) winning with 33 percent of the votes.
Trailing behind, current premier Jean Charest's Liberals are battling it out with Francoi Legault's Coalition Avenir Quebec, according to the Leger Marketing survey of nearly 1,900 people from August 29 to 31.
The longtime ruling party had support from 27 percent of those polled, a point behind CAQ, an upstart party that has attracted both disenchanted federalists and separatists.
Charest, an ardent federalist in power since 2003, has been trying for a fourth term. He is only the second premier in Quebec history to win more than two mandates.
But this year's vote comes against a backdrop of social unrest in Quebec, where students since February have challenged the government's plans to hike university fees, resulting in violent street protests and hundreds of arrests.
Labor groups and other opponents of the Liberals have joined forces with the students at times to pile more pressure on Charest, who is also facing growing corruption allegations.
Charest said he recognized the province wanted "change" but nevertheless urged any federalist voters seduced by CAQ to return to the Liberal camp to avoid "getting Madame Marois elected."
Sunday's figures are practically unchanged from a poll Friday.
If they hold up on September 4, Marois would become Quebec's first female premier -- but her party would fall just short of the votes needed to earn a majority in the province's single-round electoral system.
"To have a majority, it takes 34 percent. That's the magic number," explained Leger Marketing president Jean-Marc Leger.
Marois said Sunday that she would only call for a new referendum to secede from Canada if she was sure it would pass -- after two previous votes in 1980 and 1995 failed, the latter by a very slim margin.
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