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Amid triple-digit inflation, Argentina's presidential election heads to a runoff

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Voters in Argentina are passing judgment on their presidential candidates, and that includes the one who vowed to throw out the ruling party and throw out the national currency, replacing it with the U.S. dollar.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

South America's second-largest economy is facing one of its worst crises in the past two decades, with triple-digit inflation and rising poverty. Javier Milei, a former TV pundit and admirer of Donald Trump, surprised Argentines with his strong showing in August's primary election. But yesterday he fell short of victory, coming in second behind the ruling party's candidate.

INSKEEP: NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn is following all of this. Carrie, welcome.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the results?

KAHN: Well, with nearly 99% of the vote, the current economy minister, the government's ruling party candidate, Sergio Massa, came in first with about 37% of the vote. And that's pretty stunning, considering annual inflation in Argentina is now at 140%. The peso devalues nearly every day, and 40% of Argentines now live in poverty. Almost a third of the voters went for that far-right candidate, Javier Milei. He came in second place. Milei calls himself, Steve, an anarcho-capitalist and has vowed a radical overhaul of the government.

INSKEEP: Anarcho-capitalist? OK. And yet voters, a larger percentage of voters anyway, went for the ruling party. Why?

KAHN: Many are angry, though. But clearly, voters that went for that government's candidate said they're worried that Milei's plans were just too radical. Milei has said he will take a chainsaw to the government. He'd slash spending, ditch the peso for the U.S. dollar, like you said, and get rid of the central bank. Analysts are calling the vote for the government candidate el voto del miedo, and that's the fear vote. Here, listen to this voter, Sonia Medina (ph). She is 65 and lives on her government pension and subsidies.

SONIA MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She says there are many poor people in the country like her that just can't make ends meet, but she was worried that Milei would cut them off and ruin the economy even more.

INSKEEP: OK, so Milei did not finish first, but he did make the runoff because he finished second. So tell me a little more about him.

KAHN: Sure. He has had this stunning rise in Argentine politics. He's only been a congressman for about two years. Before that, he was this TV pundit known for these angry rants against the government and his radical economic plans. But his rise has coincided with this dramatic crash of the Argentine economy. The country is in the worst economic straits of the past two decades, and Milei has just ridden this wave of anger in the country.

He talks about other issues besides the economy, too. He decries what he calls an international socialist agenda, cultural Marxism. He says he won't deal with communists, just Israel and the U.S. He wants to ban abortion and support gun rights. Listen to this voter, Maximiliano Salinas (ph). He's 34. He says Milei is over the top sometimes, but Argentina needs change.

MAXIMILIANO SALINAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says Milei says what Argentines are thinking, that the government is corrupt, too big and must go. And he's willing to overlook some of his more outrageous statements.

INSKEEP: And the next round of voting is when?

KAHN: It's November 19. And the anti-government vote was split among several candidates. It's still strong. And Milei and his far-right agenda are still very much in play in Argentina.

INSKEEP: NPR's South America correspondent Carrie Kahn. Pleasure talking with you.

KAHN: You're welcome. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.