Stephen Harper and his right-wing Conservative Party swept to victory in Canada's election, and pledged yesterday to honor a call for change after ending the 12-year rule of the scandal-tainted Liberals.
Harper, 46, ousted centrist Prime Minister Paul Martin, but must look for support from Quebec separatists and the leftist New Democratic Party after falling well short of the 155 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.
"I have never been so proud of our great country, and I am honored and overwhelmed to be asked to lead it," said Harper, who rejected claims he was an "extremist" U.S.-leaning conservative out of step with moderate Canadians.
"Our great country has voted for change," the 46-year-old father of two and economics expert told jubilant supporters in the western city of Calgary.
"Shuffling the deck in Ottawa is not good enough," he said, vowing his minority administration would cut consumption taxes and cleanse government after a clutch of Liberal scandals.
Despite Harper's victory, Canada looks set to wallow in a new period of political uncertainty, with no party holding a strong mandate, and pundits predicting new national polls within two years.
By 0800 GMT, with only a handful of the more than 66,000 polling stations still to report, the Conservatives had 124 seats in parliament, the Liberals held 103, the New Democrats 29 and the separatist Bloc Quebecois 51. There was one independent.
The Conservatives scooped 36 percent of the popular vote, and turnout was 65 percent of eligible voters, in the vast country's first winter election in 27 years.
A weary Martin, who had warned Harper would install the most conservative government in Canadian history, admitted defeat, but laid claim to a proud Liberal legacy.
"I telephoned Stephen Harper and congratulated him on being chosen by the people of Canada," Martin, 67, told supporters, and announced he would step down as Liberal leader.
"We differ on many things, but we all share the belief of the potential and the promise of Canada and the desire of our country to succeed."
NDP leader Jack Layton said his party would find ways to work with the Conservatives, but said Canadians had selected his party - which increased its seat tally from 18 to 29 - to "balance" the new government.
Among the new MPs was renowned Harvard academic and human rights champion Michael Ignatieff who won his Toronto area seat for the Liberals, and has been tipped by some experts as a possible future prime minister.