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Radical libertarian populist Javier Milei was elected president of Argentina

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

An ultraconservative economist who has pledged to take a chainsaw to Argentina's troubled economy has won a polarizing presidential race. Javier Milei won the runoff, defeating the ruling party's candidate, which was the country's economy minister, who's overseen one of the worst economic crises in decades

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, Milei has a style that has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump. He captured voters' anger. He dealt a blow to the political establishment in his country and handed a victory to the global far-right movement.

MARTIN: We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn in Buenos Aires to tell us more. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: I understand that this is a huge political upset. So how did Milei and his supporters pull this off?

KAHN: It is huge. But the economic situation here in Argentina has been so bad for so long. Inflation is heading toward 200%. The peso loses value every day. People just can't make ends meet, and both the left and the right political establishment haven't been able to fix the situation. So this is not really a surprise that an outsider, even one as eccentric and ultraconservative as Milei, could win. I think the biggest surprise here is why it took so long.

MARTIN: So what did Milei have to say about his victory?

KAHN: He went out onto the street last night to address thousands celebrating and told the crowd that the work before them would be difficult and not for the timid. He said, the government has left us with a destroyed economy, with skyrocketing inflation and a huge debt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAVIER MILEI: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: But he told the crowd, echoing his standard loud, expletive-laced stump speeches, that he has the determination and the force of his libertarian principles to put Argentina back on its feet and move it forward, all to thunderous applause and his fans' familiar chants of liberty, liberty.

MARTIN: Did the ruling party candidate speak last night, Sergio Massa? What did he say?

KAHN: It was quite stunning, Michel, how fast he came out and conceded. The official numbers weren't even out, and he was congratulating Milei and pledging a smooth transition. In the end, it was an 11-point difference. Massa had a tough campaign to run. Look, he's the current economy minister who's been overseeing Argentina's bad-to-worse finances for the last year. He couldn't run on his record, so he ran this huge fear campaign warning voters of Milei's radical changes, and clearly it didn't work. And his Peronist party, which has been one of the dominant forces in the country for decades, was dealt the stunning blow yesterday.

MARTIN: So, Carrie, say more about what the voters were telling you.

KAHN: Many I talked to were ardent Milei supporters, but there were a lot of voters who were desperate for change, but very worried about Milei's eccentricities. I'll just highlight a few here. He has five cloned dogs that he calls his children. His sister is his close as adviser and may be the first lady. He has this famous temper and no political experience. Voter Dario Tarrengo told me he wasn't worried about any of that.

DARIO TARRENGO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says, "sure, he's impulsive and gets emotional, but his economic policies are sound." "And he'll have plenty of people around him to help him learn the ropes," he said. And Milei will have to do that fast. He takes power on December 10.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn from Buenos Aires. Carrie, thank you so much.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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