It is the best result ever for Austria’s far-right Freedom Party in a national election.
Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, campaigning on an anti-immigration, anti-Europe platform, has won more than 36 percent of votes cast in Sunday’s poll according to first projections from public broadcaster ORF, with his nearest rivals far behind.
Hofer will still face a run-off ballot next month, however, having failed to win a majority of first round votes.
There, he is set to go head to head with Green Party veteran Alexander van der Bellen, running as an independent.
Projections put van der Bellen narrowly ahead of third placed fellow independent Irmgard Griss – a former high court chief justice – who has been campaigning to become Austria’s first female president.
For the first time, candidates from the two main parties that have dominated Austrian post-war politics won’t be taking the top job. They have been eliminated in the first round of voting.
The presidential campaign for the largely ceremonial post has been dominated by the migrant crisis, with Austria having become a major destination for refugees.
A second round ballot is expected to be scheduled for May 22.
The incumbent, 77-year-old Social Democrat Heinz Fischer, cannot run for a third term after two six-year terms in office.