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Premier Paul Okalik resoundingly won his seat Monday in Nunavut's general election but must wait until next month to learn if he will still be the leader of the eastern Arctic territory.

Nunavut is run on a non-party system. The elected members run as independents and will meet March 5 to choose the premier and cabinet from among themselves.

"It's too big! It's too big!" Mr. Okalik yelled as the final vote tallies arrived at his campaign headquarters.

Although Mr. Okalik had taken about three-quarters of the vote, he still felt the 25 per cent captured by his opponent Doug Workman was "too big."

It was a good night for incumbent politicians in Nunavut.

Public Works Minister Peter Kattuk handily defeated four challengers in the Hudson Bay riding while Health Minister Edward Picco won by a wide margin in Iqaluit East and Sustainable Development Minister Olayuk Akesuk captured South Baffin.

Transportation Minister Peter Kilabuk won in Pangnirtung.

Among the other legislature members, Patterk Netser won again in Nanulik, Jobie Nutarak reclaimed his Tunnuniq seat and Hunter Tootoo triumphed in Iqaluit Centre.

The only upset was in Uqqummiut, where incumbent David Iqaqrialu lost to newcomer James Arreak.

Thirteen of the 19 incumbents were running again in the first general election since the eastern Arctic officially became a territory in 1999.

Mr. Okalik's main rival for the premier's chair is expected to be Tagak Curley, who was declared the winner by acclamation in Rankin Inlet North.

That battle is likely to be dominated by the recent passage of human-rights legislation that protects gays from discrimination.

The Human Rights Act squeaked through amid rancorous debate by a vote of 10 to 8 last November.

Mr. Curley, a veteran Inuit leader and member of the Order of Canada, is strongly associated with Nunavut's burgeoning fundamentalist Christian movement and has acknowledged he's seeking the premier's chair in part to amend the human-rights law.

Mr. Curley, 60, has said such protection for gays endorses a lifestyle contrary to the teachings of the Bible and "could lead to a situation where we become a habitat for that kind of lifestyle."

He has the support of southern conservative lobby groups, such as REAL Women, and the Iqaluit Christian Fellowship.

Mr. Okalik, 38, an Ottawa-trained lawyer, fought for the human rights legislation in a bid to move Nunavut toward the secular Canadian mainstream.

He has said that while the bill was not accepted unanimously, it still had to pass because all minorities must be protected from discrimination.

This was the first Nunavut-run election. The previous legislature members were chosen in a vote six weeks before Nunavut officially became a territory on April 1, 1999.

Voters in Iqaluit trudged through blizzard conditions that shut schools and daycares Monday. By nightfall, it took more than two hours for the first results to arrive from the returning office.

More than 1,000 voted in advance polls.

About 11,000 residents were eligible to vote for 82 candidates in 19 ridings in the sparsely populated territory, which is made up mainly of Inuit, covers a fifth of Canada and spans three time zones.

The territory is still challenged by high unemployment, birth and school dropout rates, rising crime and suicide rates, and shortages of housing and medical care. It's been buoyed by benefits expected from increased diamond and gold mining.

The formation of Nunavut was the first redrawing of the Canadian map since the entry of Newfoundland in 1949.

It was born out of the 1992 Nunavut Land Claim Agreement, under which the Inuit agreed to give up any future aboriginal rights to their traditional land in return for the power to govern their own territory.