With 98% of the votes counted, preliminary results showed leftist candidate Gustavo Petro with 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 during the second round of voting 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’s solid because we undergo an orderly transformation every four years,” outgoing President Evan Duque said on Sunday.
The vote took place in one of the most turbulent times in Colombia’s recent history, as the country has been plagued by the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, social unrest and a deteriorating security situation.
Duque’s approval rating is currently low, and his tenure has been marred by his administration’s handling of police behaviour, inequality and clashes between organized criminal groups.
Popular discontent has put the left within sight of the presidency for the first time in the country’s history. However, the preliminary results represent a setback for the 62-year-old Petro – a former guerrilla fighter and mayor of Bogota – who has been widely seen as a leading candidate.
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 reform of the country’s economy to combat one of the highest rates of inequality in the world.
Meanwhile, Hernandez, 77, made an appeal to centrist voters with a unique campaign on social media. The self-proclaimed “King of TikTok” has refused to participate in many televised debates and given few interviews to foreign media – despite appearing on CNN in his pajamas, saying he is “the man of the people”.
CNN’s Stefano Pozibon reports from Bogota and Michelle Velez from Atlanta.