The separatist Parti Quebecois won enough seats in a Quebec election to create at least a minority government in the predominantly French-speaking Canadian province, television networks predicted.
TVA said preliminary results on Tuesday (local time) showed the Parti Quebecois (PQ) h ad won or was leading in 61 seats, almost enough to win a majority of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature.
The results mean that PQ leader Pauline Marois becomes the first female premier in the province's history, defeating the Liberal government after nine years in power.
Previous Parti Quebecois governments held province-wide votes on breaking away from Canada in 1980 and 1995, but both failed. The most recent poll shows only 28 percent of Quebecers back independence.
Although Marois is promising another independence referendum when the time is right, that could be years away, especially if the PQ only wins a minority government. No other major party backs the idea of independence.
Marois says she will concentrate on the economy, in particular tackling the province's large debt, imposing higher tax and royalty rates on mining firms and making foreign takeovers of Quebec companies more difficult.
Liberal Premier Jean "Charest was in power for nine years, he had his chance. It's time for a change," said 60-year-old voter Andre Tetreault after casting his ballot for the PQ in Quebec City.
Quebec has a population of 7.8 million, compared with 34.5 million for all of Canada.
Nomura Global Economics analyst Charles St-Arnaud said that given the current lack of enthusiasm for independence, even a PQ majority victory would not cause much market unrest.
"I think that the election result will be more noise than anything else," he said in an email. "We could see a slight depreciation of the Canadian dollar and a widening of spreads, but nothing meaningful. What will matter more for spreads will be the first budget."
Under the Liberals, who want Quebec to stay part of Canada, relations with the federal government in Ottawa have been relatively stable since 2003.
That would change under a PQ government since Marois has made clear she wants a quick meeting with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to demand he give Quebec overall control of immigration policy and unemployment insurance.
Harper has often railed against Quebec separatists, and if he refuses to cooperate with Marois, that could boost support for the idea of independence.
TVA said a newly created right-leaning party, the Coalition for the Future of Quebec, was trailing in third place with 17 seats.
The CAQ says it would freeze all talk of a referendum for a decade and focus on the economy.
The Liberals won three successive elections from 2003 to 2008, but became increasingly unpopular amid allegations of corruption in the construction industry that might be linked to the financing of political parties.
In May, the Liberals brought in a tough law to combat student protests against planned tuition hikes. Lawyers and trade unions denounced the law as dictatorial and Marois promised to scrap the hikes if she wins.
When the 125-seat provincial assembly was dissolved, the seats were divided as follows:
Liberals - 64
PQ - 47
CAQ - 9
Quebec Solidaire - 1
Option Nationale - 1
Independents - 2
Vacant - 1