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The separatist Parti Quebecois won a solid majority of seats in Quebec's provincial election, but its 45 percent share of the popular vote was hardly an ironclad mandate for independence.

The Parti Quebecois, led by hard-line separatist Jacques Parizeau, won 77 of the 125 seats in the Quebec legislature Monday. Provincial Premier Daniel Johnson's Liberal Party captured 47 seats and the small Democratic Action Party took one.Many opinion polls had forecast a stronger showing by the separatists and a thorough thrashing of the Liberals for failing to deliver on economic prosperity.

Instead, voters in the French-speaking province opted only for change and indicated they'd think about independence later. In the popular vote, the Parti Quebecois won only 45 percent, a single percentage point ahead of the Liberals, with 44 percent.

A 1980 referendum on independence failed 60 percent to 40 percent, and the lukewarm endorsement of the separatists Monday gave hope to many Canadians who would like to see the question of Quebec independence put to rest once and for all.

Parizeau has promised to hold another referendum on independence within a year. That doesn't give him much time to pump up more enthusiasm.

Independence would have an enormous impact on the rest of the 127-year-old Canadian federation. The four small Atlantic Ocean provinces would be physically cut off from the rest of the country, and the division could intensify independence sentiments in other provinces that also feel mistreated by the national government in Ottawa.

Flushed with excitement Monday, the 64-year-old Parizeau said he was ready to fight the battle he's been preparing for all his political life.

"It has been difficult at times to know where the normalcy of things could be found," he said. "But now we are becoming a normal people. Together, with confidence, Quebeckers are embarking on a new chapter of history."