BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Germán Vargas Lleras, the former Vice-President of Colombia who stepped down two months ago as the second-in-command to President Juan Manuel Santos to focus on the 2018 election, is the frontrunner in the early presidential poll.

With just under a year to go before the May 27, 2018 election day, the electoral season is in full swing and so are the ubiquitous polls. In the latest poll, carried out by Invamer, the candidate with the strongest level of support was Vargas Lleras.

In October of 2013, Angelino Garzón Quintero, Santos’ Vice-President from 2010 to 2014, said that he would not be accompanying the Social Party of National Unity (PU) candidate in his re-election campaign. Garzón Quintero served in the position until the 7th of August, 2014 when Santos’ first mandate ended.

Garzón Quintero had suffered from several health issues in recent years, giving scares of the political kind to Santos who considered Garzón, a more left-leaning politician than the center-right President, vital to reaching across the aisle politically.

In 2013, Santos elected Vargas Lleras be his running mate for his re-election campaign in the wake of Garzón Quintero’s departure.

Since August 7 of 2014, which marked the beginning of Santos’ second presidential term, Vargas Lleras had been serving in the capacity of Vice-President until March 21 of this year when he stepped down from the post in order to finalize his campaign for next year’s presidential election.

Prior to his ascension to the second-in-command, however, Vargas Lleras was no stranger to politics or functions of the State. In fact, he even ran for the presidency once before in 2010 when he finished in a distant third with 10.11 percent of the vote behind Antanas Mockus of the Green Party (21.51 percent) and Santos (46.67), the latter of whom easily defeated Mockus in the two-candidate runoff round.

This time around, Vargas Lleras has a better chance, at least according to the early polls.

According to Invamer, Vargas Lleras led all the candidates in voting intentions with 21.5 percent of the vote. Gustavo Petro, a former congressman and former Bogotá mayor of the center-left Progressive Movement was the poll’s second-placed candidate with 14.2 percent of voting intentions.

The only other candidate with support in the double digits was third-placed Sergio Fajardo (10 percent), a former mayor of his native Medellín, former governor of Antioquia and Mockus’ running mate in 2010 of the centrist Citizen Compromise.

Rounding out the latter end of the jam-packed list were Clara López Obregón (left-leaning independent) with 8.4 percent, Luis Alfredo Ramos (right-wing Democratic Center) with 7.7 percent, Marta Lucía Ramírez (right-wing Conservative Party) with 6.5 percent, Claudia López (center-left Green Party) with 6 percent and Humberto De la Calle (center/center-left Liberal Party) with 5.4 percent.

Four more candidates lag behind with much smaller intentions while the ‘white’ vote, i.e. blank votes that show the electorate’s disapproval of all candidates, received 6.3 percent.

According to the poll, Vargas Lleras finds most of his support from the rural regions of Colombia and its smaller cities and towns while Petro’s bases of support were found in major urban centers of the country. Petro’s votes came mostly from younger voters while Vargas Lleras was more popular among middle-aged and older individuals.

While the poll gave a clear advantage to Vargas Lleras, his projected lead would not be anywhere near large enough in order to avoid a second round of voting; Colombian law dictates that in order achieve an outright victory, a candidate must receive at least “half-plus-one” of the votes. If that does not happen as expected, then the second round of voting, held between the top two candidates of the first round, will be held on June 17, 2018. Just over 35 million voters are eligible in the country of 49 million.

The poll, however, still provides good news for Vargas Lleras as he was once again comfortably favored against the other popular candidates in an imaginary second-round runoff vote.

Vargas Lleras belongs to the Radical Change (CR), a conservative party of which he is the leader. Previously, he belonged to the centrist Colombian Liberal Party and the Colombia Always Party, a smaller conservative party. The 54-year-old, a lawyer by trade, served as a councilman for the city of Bojacá in his first job at 19 and soon moved to nearby Bogotá where he worked as a capital councilman. Vargas Lleras then served as a Senator from 1994 to 2008 (and was President of the Senate in 2003 and 2004) before his ill-fated attempt at the presidency in 2010.

After initially rejecting a post in Santos’ government, Vargas Lleras eventually decided to accept the offer and became the Interior Minister, a role he would hold from 2010 to 2012. Vargas Lleras was then designated Santos’ Minister of Housing, City and Territory where he was tasked with formulating and implementing policy related to housing, development and city services.

Santos awarded the ministry record-high funds that were designated for the building of free homes and apartments for the most vulnerable segments of the population; 100,000 houses and nearly 300 housing projects were built for Colombian victims of violence, those displaced by natural disasters and underprivileged families.

During this time, the Ministry of Transport was combined with the Housing Ministry and Vargas Lleras oversaw the implementation of billions of dollars into infrastructure including 4G mobile internet networks, highways, ports, airports, railroads and water and sanitation projects.

Political analysts in Colombia point to this period of his political career, which involved endless trips to hundreds of locales around the nation and interaction with locals, as the reason for his popularity in this electoral season. This was reflected in the poll as 91.1 percent of those polled simply ‘knew of’ him, the highest number among the candidates, and 50.6 percent held a favorable opinion of Vargas Lleras, again the highest among the candidates.

The Invamer poll was conducted among 1,200 registered voters at least 18 years of ago in over 50 cities and municipalities throughout Colombia during the first and second weeks of May and has a 3 percent margin-of-error.

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