BOGOTA Former Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos leads the race to succeed President Alvaro Uribe in a May election after a court barred the president from seeking re-election, a poll said on Monday.
Santos, a close ally of Uribe, garnered 23 percent in the February 27 poll, up from 13 percent in a survey conducted in December, according to the poll by Ipsos Napoleon Franco and broadcast by RCN radio.
Leftist Senator Gustavo Petro, one of Uribe's fiercest critics, leads the remaining candidates with 11 percent while former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo garnered 9 percent along with veteran politician German Vargas Lleras.
As it appears no candidate will secure more than 50 percent in the May 30 vote, the election likely will be decided by a second round in June.
The poll surveyed 1,000 people in more than ten cities across the country and had a 3.1 percent margin of error.
Uribe, a close Washington ally, was barred from re-election by the Constitutional Court on Friday, meaning he will be forced to step aside after two terms that were highlighted by his crackdown on leftist guerrillas and cocaine traffickers.
Santos has been closely associated with Uribe's security successes as defence minister. But he could struggle to keep the Uribe coalition together as other political parties within the alliance may present their own candidates for the presidential race.
(Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Vicki Allen)