With 98% of the votes counted, preliminary results showed leftist candidate Gustavo Petro with just over 40% of the vote, populist former Bucaramanga mayor Rodolfo Hernandez with 28% and right-wing candidate Federico “Fico” Gutierrez with 23%.
Petro and Hernandez are now expected to face each other in the second ballot on June 19.
Polling stations closed late on Sunday, with no reports of violence or unrest.
“We have one of the oldest democracies in this hemisphere. We have one of the strongest democracies and it is getting stronger because we go through an orderly transition every four years,” outgoing President Evan Duque said on Sunday.
The vote came at one of the most turbulent times in Colombia’s recent history, as the country grappled with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, social unrest and a deteriorating security situation.
Duque’s own approval rating is currently at a low level as his tenure has been marred by his government’s handling of police behaviour, inequality and clashes between organized crime groups.
Popular discontent has brought the left within sight of the presidency for the first time in the country’s history. However, the initial results represent a setback for the 62-year-old Petro, a former guerrilla fighter and mayor of Bogota, who was widely seen as the front-runner.
If Pietro is elected next month, he will become Colombia’s first left-wing leader. His colleague Francia Márquez became the first Afro-Colombian to hold executive powers. Petro proposed a radical restructuring of the country’s economy to address one of the highest levels of inequality in the world.
Meanwhile, Hernandez, 77, has targeted centrist voters with a unique campaign on social media. The self-proclaimed “King of TikTok” has refused to participate in many TV debates and given few interviews to foreign channels – despite appearing on CNN in his pajamas and saying he was “the man of the people”.
CNN’s Stefano Pozibon reports from Bogota and Michelle Velez from Atlanta.
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