Maduro began his political career in the 1980s as founding member of the Unity and Change movement, designed to reinvigorate the National Party. This movement gained control of the party and catapulted Rafael Callejas to the office of president in 1989. Maduro was campaign manager for Callejas in 1985 and 1989, and president of the National Party Central Committee. Callejas named Maduro president of the Central Bank, a post he held from 1990–94. He was responsible for liberalizing and restructuring the economy, including relaxing price controls, opening up the financial sector, encouraging non-traditional exports, and beginning a process of reform that led to the reduction in size of the government, a restructuring of state businesses, and the adoption of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for new loans. He was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 1994, but decided to return to private life. He announced his decision to seek the presidency in August 1999.
In the presidential elections of 25 November 2001, Maduro beat Liberal Party candidate, school teacher, and Congress president Rafael Pineda Ponce by 52% to 44% of the vote. On the eve of the election, congressional candidate Angel Pacheco of the National Party was murdered. The murder was seen to have been politically motivated, and highlighted a violent crime wave plaguing the country. Although otherwise the elections were considered to be free, fair, and peaceful, 7,000 armed soldiers guarded polling stations. Pineda accepted defeat gracefully in an election marked by high turnout. Maduro was inaugurated on 27 January 2002. In his inaugural address, Maduro promised to transform the country by attacking poverty and government inefficiency, to resolve outstanding problems with El Salvador and Nicaragua, and to work toward regional integration.