A 41-year-old senator, Duque will face his leftist rival, former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, in the run-off on June 17.
With most of the vote counted, Duque had polled 39.7 per cent of the votes, compared to Petro’s 24.8 per cent. Petro beat off a late challenge from former Medellin mayor Sergio Fajardo to narrowly take the second runoff spot.
It was the first presidential poll in half a century free of the threat of the FARC, though Duque, 41, has campaigned strongly on a pledge to rewrite a peace agreement with the former rebel movement.
Polling closed on schedule at 2: 30 am IST after eight hours of “totally normal” voting, said electoral authority chairman Juan Carlos Galindo. Bogota and other major cities reported a high turnout in a country where voter abstention is traditionally around 50 per cent.
The peaceful election was an achievement celebrated by outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos after casting his ballot in Bogota. “So far not a single voting station has had to be moved for security reasons,” he said in a televised speech.
“It’s been many decades since that has happened. In other words, these elections are going to be the most secure, the calmest.” Ironically, the peace Santos made with the FARC, which is now a political party, has opened sharp divisions, reflected in the leading candidates to succeed him.
Duque has vowed to rewrite an accord he sees as too lenient on a group that waged a decades-long war of terror in Colombia before transforming itself into a political party. “I want a country of legality, a full-on fight against corruption, a country where peace can breathe throughout the land,” said Duque after casting his ballot in Bogota.
Outside one Bogota polling station, Paula Rubio, 38, said she voted for Duque “to maintain order in the country.” Petro, a former member of the disbanded M-19 rebel group, has defied expectations in a country where presidential elections have traditionally been the domain of the right.
Petro said he wanted a Colombia “present and future” without hatred or vengeance and to leave behind “the machinery of corruption.” The 58-year-old rallied many Colombians with his campaign speeches against inequality and corruption, making him the country’s first leftist candidate going to the second round of a presidential poll.