Quebec Province's ruling Parti Quebecois chose its moderate justice minister, Pierre Marc Johnson, to succeed its longtime leader Rene Levesque as head of the party and hence premier. Levesque has announced that he will resign.

Johnson, 39, a lawyer and physician from Montreal whose father was premier of Quebec from 1966 to 1968, had been widely regarded as the front-runner of six contenders for Levesque's post.

Levesque, who led his party to an upset victory in 1976, suffered his most serious political blow four years later, when Quebec voters refused in a referendum to give him authority to negotiate with the rest of Canada for a new arrangement that he called "sovereignty-association." His popularity went into a slide, and in June he announced his decision to step down.

All 160,000 party members across the province were eligible to vote. Incomplete results indicated Johnson was winning 61 percent of the vote.

Johnson has held several posts in Parti Quebecois governments in the past nine years. He has angered hard-core separatists by arguing that the party should shelve the question of independence from Canada of largely French-speaking Quebec Province, the policy that led to the party's formation.

"I've seen the polls, I've listened to the people," he had begun arguing months ago. "I've been around Quebec. And the people of Quebec aren't ready -- if they are ever to be -- to vote on that issue."

Johnson, as premier, must call provincial elections by next spring. But because of the party's narrow edge in the provincial legislature after by-election defeats, many observers expect that he might advance elections to November.

His selection is expected to give the Parti Quebecois a boost in opinion polls, which previously indicated that the opposition Liberal Party, led by Robert Bourassa, an ex-premier, would win a landslide victory running against Levesque.

The near collapse of public support for the Parti Quebecois under Levesque came after its successes in remedying two complaints of the French-speaking majority, which had been at the heart of the demand for independence: the threat that French would be relegated to second language in the province, and anger over domination of the economy by English speakers.

The primacy of the French language in Quebec has been largely assured by now, although many "French-only" laws passed by the Levesque government were later overturned by courts.

"Quebec has become a modern society that henceforth will saw its own wood and carry its own water," Levesque was quoted as saying in an emotional farewell to a party convention in Montreal Friday night in which he ended a career of 25 years in politics.