Gilles Duceppe stunned the Quebec political world Saturday, quietly pulling out of the race to becomehead of the Parti Québécois just a day after hesaid he would run.

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Gilles Duceppe said he bowed out due to 'the significant and rapid' swell of support for Pauline Marois, adding he didn't want to risk dividing the sovereignty movement by running against her. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))

The Bloc Québécois leader, 59, said he's throwing his support behind Pauline Marois afterweighing thenumber of backersthe former provincial cabinet ministerhad already assembled.

"The significant and rapid support gathered by Pauline Marois — not only within the Parti Québécois but within the Bloc Québécois and among the general public — means it's my duty to avoid a clash that would divide and therefore weaken the sovereignty movement," Duceppe said Saturday in a release.

"The message, 'Pauline in Quebec and Gilles in Ottawa,' also carried sway. For these reasons, I am withdrawing from the race and offering my unconditional support to Pauline Marois."

Duceppe said he hoped to continue towork towards advancingthe causeof Quebec sovereignty as Bloc leader in Ottawa, addinghe intended to ask Bloc MPs on Monday to reiterate their confidence in his leadership.

"It's time for a woman, and one of quality, to come in to lead the Parti Québécois, then Quebec," Duceppe said.

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While the PQ was in power in the 1990s, Pauline Marois, shown in 2006, held the province's most important portfolios, including including finance, health and education. ((Clément Allard/Canadian Press))

Marois, 58, resigned from politics in 2006 after losing her second leadership race in a drawn-out battle with André Boisclair that lasted most of 2005. Boisclair resigned as leader earlier this week following the sovereigntist party's plungein the March provincial election and a public spat with Duceppe.

The PQ was reduced to third-party status in the election, winning only 36 of the 125 seats, while Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique du Québec surged into second place with 41 seats.

Marois key figure in PQ glory days

A PQ member for more than 30 years,Marois is intimately linked with the party's history.Marois worked as a press attaché for Jacques Parizeau when he was provincial finance minister in the 1970s; she was elected to the national assembly in 1981.

Marois made her first run for the leadership in 1985 after René Lévesque resigned. Marois was defeated in the 1985 election, but re-elected in1989, 1994, 1998 and 2003.

She held the province's most important portfolios — including finance, health and education — while thePQ was in power in the1990s.

Marois told reporters in Montreal on Friday she hopes her third try for the leadership is a charm.

"I'm doing this to win," she said.

"I hope we will be able to reconnect with the population of Quebec, because we had an important problem on March 26 [the Quebec election]."