Preliminary elections results made public at 10pm (0300 GMT) have indicated that the opposition Conservative party has made significant gains against the ruling Liberal party in Canada, but just shy of forming a majority government.
Despite Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s eleventh hour warnings of a right-wing Conservative agenda in the country, 36% of Canadians voted for the Conservative party led by economist Stephen Harper.
The initial results on Monday indicated Harper will be the 22nd prime minister of the country.
The Liberals won just 30% of the popular vote.
Paul Martin conceded defeat and said he would step down as head of the party, although he will remain in Parliament to represent the Montreal seat he won again.
"I have just called Stephen Harper and I've offered him my congratulations," Harper told a subdued crowd at his headquarters in Montreal.
"We differ on many things, but we all share and believe in the potential and the progress of Canada."
The biggest story of the night is the extent to which the Conservatives succeeded in winning seats away from the Liberals in French-speaking Quebec.
The Conservatives have so far won 10 seats in Quebec, up from zero seats in 2004.
Quebec powerhouse Bloc Québécois has so far won 51 seats.
Ontario, which holds the largest number of registered voters (some 7 million) and has been a traditional stronghold for the Liberals, may have been Martin’s greatest defeat.
The Conservatives were leading
the Liberals by a thin margin
Conservatives won 40 seats to the Liberal's 54 with the NDP gaining seven seats, up from zero in 2004.
A British Columbia court of appeals ruled in 2005 that elections results could not be made public until all polling stations closed.
The last provinces to vote are British Columbia and Yukon.
Surprising gains were made by the New Democratic Party (NDP) which seemed to have won the battle between the ruling Liberals and the Conservatives.
With 95% of votes counted, the NDP had already gained over its 2004 elections results, pulling in 17% of the popular vote and 29 seats in parliament. In 2004, the NDP won 18 seats only.
"I voted for the NDP specifically because the other choices did not represent my vision of Canada," said Sarah Bukhari, a social services manager in Toronto.
She explained that she had been put off by all the corruption charges made against the Liberals but at the same time believed the Conservatives would slash social funding and neglect Canada’s mushrooming immigrant population.
2004 election results
Bloc Quebecois 54
2005 election results
Bloc Quebecois 51
The NDP’s growing voter bloc may signal that it will be the power-broker between the Conservative minority government and the Liberals who now are the official opposition in the Parliament.
According to Elections Canada, the official independent body overseeing the national elections, 1634 candidates were running in 308 ridings. Up for grabs are all 308 seats in the parliament.
Of the 22.8 million registered voters, Elections Canada counted 1.56 million advance voters on 13-16 January. Elections Canada is reporting at least 14 million Canadians voted in the 2006 elections.