( dpa ) - Russia's Central Election Commission said on Thursday it had grounds to disqualify former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov from running as an independent in the March presidential election.
Kasyanov had been viewed as the only opposition candidate in the race, though he trails far behind the favourite Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's anointed successor.
Kasyanov was Putin's first prime minister but became a Kremlin critic after losing his job in 2004.
Russian prosecutors announced Tuesday that they had opened an investigation expected to disqualify presidential opposition candidate Mikhail Kasyanov for allegedly forging the signatures he needed to run.
Speaking during a visit to Brussels Thursday Kasyanov said he still hoped to stand in the election. His staff said that they would appeal against the electoral commission's analysis of the signatures, 80,000 of which had been deemed invalid by the commission.
There is a five per cent invalidity barrier for disqualification.
In the majority of cases, mistakes were made in the filling in of the list and signatures had not been falsified, Kasyanov's staff said.
The electoral commission is expected to make its ruling regarding Kasyanov's candidacy on Sunday.
Kasyanov, as an independent candidate, filed the required two million signatures in support of his self-nominated to the March 2 presidential vote.
Russia media reported Wednesday that the main opposition contender, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, was set to pull out of the March 2 election because of doubts regarding fairness of the polls.
He charged that the campaign was slanted in favour of the Kremlin frontrunner.
Medvedev's only remaining challengers will be nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovksy and Andrei Bogdanov, leader of the Democratic Party.
Both candidates are considered to be close to the Kremlin. According to Russians polls, Medvedev is supported by over 60 per cent of voters.
Kasyanov had 1 per cent of voter's support, according to the latest polls.