Salazar was a member of the 'Academic Centre for Christian Democracy.' In January 1921, he established the 'Catholic Center Party.' Soon, he began his political career with the 'Cortes' (parliament). However, he stayed only for one session and then resumed his job at the university.
In May 1926, Salazar's name was proposed for the post of the minister of finance. He declined the offer because he was not given the autonomy he desired. In 1928, when General Óscar Carmona became the president, Salazar received the offer again, but this time, he had full control over the government's income and expenditures. Thus, he accepted the offer.
As a finance minister, Salazar ended Portugal's tradition of public debts and became the first to introduce fiscal surpluses, which were used for several development projects. He also stabilized the currency and brought in a balanced budget.
Salazar brought financial stability and abolished the import of foreign goods. He reduced the state budget and introduced a new tax structure.
On April 15, 1929, Salazar became the 'Grand Cross of the Order of Saint James of the Sword.'
In July 1929, Salazar wanted to resign because the government had canceled a law that had benefited many religious organizations in the past. He, however, remained in the ministry.
The following year, he assumed his duties as the minister of colonies and announced the 'Colonial Act' of 1930, which brought the overseas territories under his administration.
To justify Portugal's colonial policies, Salazar adopted the theories of Lusotropicalism, according to which he proved Portugal’s exceptional ability to adapt to multicultural environments and maintain harmony among multiracial societies.
Surprisingly, many of Salazar's political rivals strongly supported his colonialist policies.
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On April 21, 1932, Salazar was honored with the 'Grand Cross of the Order of the Colonial Empire,' and on May 28, he became the first civilian to receive the 'Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword.'
On July 5, 1932, Salazar became the 100th prime minister of Portugal. He introduced a new constitution to restructure Portugal's political system according to his authoritarian ideas.
Most of Salazar's policies had influences of Catholicism, conservatism, and nationalism. He established the ‘Estado Novo,’ or the 'New State,' with anti-parliamentarian thoughts.
Since Salazar had a close association with the Catholic lobby before he ventured into politics, his political ideas were inclined toward the Catholic social doctrine. Thus, he was expected to bring in major religious reforms during his regime. On the contrary, he did little for the religion. He neither attempted to establish a theocratic policy nor restored the Church's lost property.
In 1932, Salazar canceled the Catholic political party to gain control over all political parties and argued that the Church was meant to serve the society without any affiliation to politics.
Salazar invited the Catholic political party members to join his political organization, the 'National Union,' which consisted exclusively of government supporters. Salazar chose his ministers, whose operations he closely supervised. This curtailed political freedom in Portugal. Salazar expelled Portugal's 'National Syndicalists.'
Since Salazar's initial premiership years were marred by the Great Depression and World War II, the former half of his premiership years witnessed the introduction of economic programs based on autarky and interventionism policies.
In 1933, Salazar established the 'Polícia de Vigilância e de Defesa do Estado' (PVDE), or the "State Defence and Surveillance Police," which became 'Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado' (PIDE), or the "International and State Defence Police," in 1945 and lasted till 1969.
The military force was trained to suppress rebels, and major attention was given to Portugal's economic recovery. His economic system, labeled as “corporatism,” fought against class struggle and the supremacy of economics.
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To attain economic stability and counter the effects of the turbulent years of the Portuguese ‘First Republic,’ Salazar introduced reformatory taxes. He hoped to balance the Portuguese budget and clear the country’s debts.
The rising radicalism under Salazar's regime attracted the hostility of anarcho-syndicalist Emídio Santana, founder of the 'Metallurgists National Union,' who made a failed attempt to assassinate him on July 4, 1937.
In 1937, Salazar released 'How to Raise a State,' a critical analytic book on ‘Nazi’ Germany's ‘Nuremberg Laws.’ In 1938, 'Fordham University' presented him an 'Honorary Doctorate of Law.' 'Oxford University' granted him an 'Honorary Degree of Doctor of Civil Law' in 1939. Salazar had also authored the book 'How to Re-erect a State.'
In the wake of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Salazar held additional portfolios, taking charge of the ministry of war (1936–1944) and the ministry of foreign affairs (1936–1944).
Salazar's 'Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society' (HIAS-HICEM) in Paris helped people reach and find refuge in Portugal after France surrendered to Germany.
More elementary schools opened during Salazar's regime, while the illiteracy rate dropped to a great extent.
In October 1945, Salazar began a liberalization program devised with the prime motive of restoring the suppressed (during the Spanish Civil War and World War II) civil rights. He announced parliamentary elections, a general political amnesty, freedom of the press, and limitation of legal suppression. He also promised the introduction of the right of “habeas corpus.”
The liberalization program was designed on the basis of a broad coalition, the 'Movement of Democratic Unity' (MUD).
Despite his friendship with the head of the government of Spain, Francisco Franco, and his support to Spain's ‘Nationalist’ government, against the ‘Second Republic’ forces, he kept Portugal unbiased in World War II. Portugal became one of the founding members of the 'North Atlantic Treaty Organisation' (NATO) in 1949.
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Throughout the 1950s, Salazar continued the same approach to economic policy that helped Portugal sustain its neutral status in World War II.
In 1960, Portugal co-founded the 'European Free Trade Association' (EFTA) and subsequently the 'Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development' (1961).
The start of the 1960s saw the rise of new “technocrats," experts in economics and technical–industrial aspects. Soon, the new economic period in Portugal attracted foreign investments.
The decade also flourished with industrial development and further economic growth. The GDP also soared under Salazar's glorious regime.
During Salazar's 'Estado Novo,' the Jewish and Protestant minorities were not discriminated against. Thus, the movement of different Christian Churches flourished.
However, this was the time when most of the world, specifically the newly independent African nations, excluded the Portuguese government because of Salazar's colonial policies. On the other hand, some of Portugal's domestic factions, too, challenged the policies.