A conservative former senator and a leftist former rebel are headed for what promises to be a polarising presidential run-off after gaining the most votes in Colombia’s election on Sunday.
With almost all quick-count results in, Ivan Duque was leading with 39% of the ballots cast, short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a June run-off.
One-time rebel and ex-Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro trailed in second place with 25%, edging out former Medellin mayor Sergio Fajardo, who garnered nearly 24%.
Mr Duque and Mr Petro represent opposite ends of Colombia’s political spectrum and have presented dramatically different visions for the future of the Andean nation as it moves forward with a historic peace process with leftist rebels.
Mr Duque is the handpicked candidate of Alvaro Uribe, the ex-president and chief critic of the nation’s 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. He is promising to amend important aspects of the accord, such as ensuring drug trafficking is not an amnestied crime and blocking guerrilla leaders from political office.
Mr Petro supports the accord and has galvanised youth voters angered by deeply entrenched corruption and income inequality. He is vowing to end Colombia’s dependence on oil exports and raise taxes on vast swathes of unproductive land in the hope of boosting agricultural production. Critics have warned his rise could push Colombia dangerously toward the left and rattle markets.
“The result was a sharp blow to traditional politics,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “With a Duque/Petro run-off, Colombians will face a starker choice than in many years.”
The election has sparked fears on both the left and right, with Mr Duque’s critics cautioning that his presidency would be tantamount to a constitutionally barred third term for Mr Uribe. Though hugely popular among Colombians for improving security and weakening illegal armed groups, Mr Uribe also presided over grave human rights violations by the military.
Meanwhile, Mr Petro and his populist “Humane Colombia” platform have drawn comparisons from critics to the late Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who Mr Petro once admired. He brought Mr Chavez to Colombia in 1994 shortly after the Venezuelan paratrooper was released from jail, where he was sent for staging a military coup.
Mr Petro describes himself as a “strong adversary” of the neighbouring country’s current president, Nicolas Maduro, but his early ties to Mr Chavez have dogged him throughout the campaign.
In a speech before hundreds of supporters on Sunday night, Mr Petro said fears that he would turn Colombia into an authoritarian state where wealth is redistributed were unfounded.
More than 19 million voters cast ballots in the election, the highest turnout in two decades.
The results were especially harsh for Mr Fajardo, who fell less than two points behind Mr Petro and failed to advance to the next round.
He conceded defeat but showed no sign of who he would support in a run-off where his 4.5 million supporters are likely to be decisive.
In a victory speech to supporters little changed from his regular campaign stump, Mr Duque stressed law and order issues that were red meat to his conservative base. He said he did not want to “tear up” Colombia’s peace agreement but rather make modifications that would ensure victims of the conflict achieve “peace with justice”.
“I want to be the president who unites our country and not govern with a rearview mirror,” he said.
Analysts said that mostly urban voters turned off by Colombia’s polarising politics would play kingmaker in the second round.