Leftist political novice is sworn in as country's fifth president in three years as it celebrates 200th anniversary of independence.

Pedro Castillo who has never held political office before assumed office less than two weeks after he was declared the winner of the June 6 runoff election.
Pedro Castillo who has never held political office before assumed office less than two weeks after he was declared the winner of the June 6 runoff election. (AP)

Pedro Castillo, a leftist political novice who promised to be a champion of his country's poor, was sworn into office as Peru's president.

Castillo walked hand in hand with his wife Lilia Paredes from the Foreign Ministry to the congress where he took his oath to applause on Wednesday. 

His swearing-in ceremony was attended by US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who was also a schoolteacher, the King of Spain Felipe VI and several South American presidents, among them the leaders of Chile, Sebastian Pinera; Colombia, Ivan Duque; and Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso.

Win by 44,000 votes

The rural teacher who has never held political office before assumed office less than two weeks after he was declared the winner of the June 6 runoff election succeeding Francisco Sagasti, whom Congress appointed in November to lead the South American nation after weeks of political turmoil.

Castillo defeated his opponent, right-wing career politician Keiko Fujimori, by just 44,000 votes.

Peru's poor and rural citizens supported Castillo and his slogan "No more poor in a rich country," while the elites favoured Fujimori, the daughter of controversial former president Alberto Fujimori.

He stunned voters and observers by rising from a pool of 18 candidates and advancing to the runoff, in first place no less.

Hopes for economic recovery

Castillo's initial proposal to nationalise the nation's mining industry set off alarm bells among business leaders.

While that stance has softened, he remains committed to rewriting the constitution that was approved under the regime of Fujimori's father.

Peru is the second-largest copper exporter in the world and mining accounts for almost 10 percent of its GDP and 60 percent of its exports.

Its economy has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the poverty level and eliminating the gains of a decade. 

In November, Peru had three presidents in a single week after one was impeached by Congress over corruption allegations and protests forced his successor to resign. Lawmakers then appointed Sagasti.

Castillo has promised Covid-19 vaccines for all Peruvians.

Castillo until recently was a rural schoolteacher in the country's third-poorest district. The son of illiterate peasants led a teachers' strike in 2017. He is married and has two children.

Source: AP