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Sri Lankan ruling party cracks, Rajapaksa to face health minister in presidential race

  • Sri Lankan Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, right, and Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne acknowledge the gathering as they arrive for a press briefing in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.  Sirisena quit President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government Friday to challenge him in the upcoming elections in the most serious setback for the leader's quest for a third term. Sirisena left the government with three other ministers, including Senaratne, and a lawmaker, saying Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition's presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

    Sri Lankan Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, right, and Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne acknowledge the gathering as they arrive for a press briefing in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Sirisena quit President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government Friday to challenge him in the upcoming elections in the most serious setback for the leader's quest for a third term. Sirisena left the government with three other ministers, including Senaratne, and a lawmaker, saying Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition's presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)  (The Associated Press)

  • Sri Lankan Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena addresses the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014.  Sirisena quit President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government Friday to challenge him in the upcoming elections in the most serious setback for the leader's quest for a third term. Sirisena left the government with three other ministers and a lawmaker, saying Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition's presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

    Sri Lankan Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena addresses the media in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Sirisena quit President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government Friday to challenge him in the upcoming elections in the most serious setback for the leader's quest for a third term. Sirisena left the government with three other ministers and a lawmaker, saying Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition's presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)  (The Associated Press)

  • Sri Lankan Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, center, acknowledges the gathering, with former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunge standing by his right, at the end of a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Sirisena quit President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government Friday to challenge him in the upcoming elections in the most serious setback for the leader's quest for a third term. Sirisena left the government with three other ministers and a lawmaker, saying Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition's presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

    Sri Lankan Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, center, acknowledges the gathering, with former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunge standing by his right, at the end of a press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Sirisena quit President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government Friday to challenge him in the upcoming elections in the most serious setback for the leader's quest for a third term. Sirisena left the government with three other ministers and a lawmaker, saying Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition's presidential candidate. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)  (The Associated Press)

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's main challenger in the upcoming election will be his health minister and No. 2 of his political party.

Maithripala Sirisena's defection from the government is the biggest political setback for Rajapaksa, who still enjoys considerable support after leading a military campaign to end a 25-year civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sirisena, who left the government with four other ministers, said Friday he has been chosen as the combined opposition's presidential candidate. No date for the polls has been set yet but they're likely in the first week of January.

Sisisena accused Rajapaksa's administration of concentrating all power in his family and taking the country toward authoritarianism.