Road to Gyurcsány’s resignation

Today, while we await Bajnai's announcement of his economic plans (allegedly tomorrow), I would like to summarize a news report about "the background of the fall of Ferenc Gyurcsány" that appeared in the internet newspaper Origo yesterday. As opposed to many other "background studies" this one sounds genuine enough. I myself heard from reliable sources about certain events leading to the resignation announcement that jibe with the story that appeared in Origo. For example, the very first sentence of the piece, "Ferenc Gyurcsány has been thinking about leaving his post ever since December." This is exactly what I heard about a week ago.

According to Origo although he and his closest advisors and friends talked about the possibility of such a move, Gyurcsány kept his final decision to himself. The MSZP Congress was held on March 21. The night before he called his trusted entourage together and announced in "six sentences" his decision to resign, invoking the constructive no confidence option. After the announcement he read the speech he had prepared for the next day. Apparently some of his friends wept, but the announcement wasn't unexpected.

The idea of resignation was often discussed at informal meetings of Gyurcsány and his advisors. Most of the time these meetings took place in the family's residence and were also attended by J. Zoltán Gál, Gyurcsány's former chief-of-staff, and Viktor Szigetvári, director of the 2006 campaign. Sometimes Klára Dobrev, his wife, was also in attendance. After the budget was accepted in mid-December this group began to contemplate different strategies–from broadening public support to possible resignation. At this point Gyurcsány was in an optimistic mood and believed that he could stop the declining popularity of the party and himself. From mid-December on he talked about a new "reform program" that would be more intensive than former attempts. He hoped that the "reform package" the ministry of finance prepared and he was to present to parliament on the first day of the spring session (on February 16) would be well received. He himself put quite a bit of work into the program. Because of Gyurcsány's optimistic frame of mind and the feverish work on the economic reform package, the possibility of a change of prime ministers was put on ice for a while. Also, according to one of the informants of Orego, the staff didn't think that the time was propitious for offering the constructive no confidence option because they doubted that before the EP elections either MDF nor SZDSZ would be willing to support such a move. After all, it was in the interest of these two parties to show themselves as independent. Also there were people in Gyurcsány's entourage who thought that Gyurcsány is at his best when in a crisis situation, that he would emerge from this crisis with flying colors.

Gyurcsány's speech on February 16 was not flashy and, according to many people, was too long. He went point by point outlining the program although he did get a bit carried away when he described the rather modest austerity program as "the third great reform program of the last twenty years." The commentators initially greeted the program positively. A step in the right direction, they said. Moreover, as Gyurcsány himself said in an interview with Origo, after all there is no other program. Either this or nothing. However, the honeymoon was brief. On February 21 the Reform Alliance came out with its own program that was greeted enthusiastically by most economists. Moreover, MDF and SZDSZ decided to support this program instead that of the government. The votes of these two parties were necessary to pass Gyurcsány's program. It became clear that hopes pinned on the government's program were misplaced. "We noticed," said one of the informants, "that such an aura developed around the government and the person of the prime minister that it didn't matter how good our suggestions were, the newspapermen, the economists, the financial analysts automatically rejected them." And no matter what they did the prime minister's image didn't improve; his popularity only declined.

Gyurcsány is well known for his fortitude, but all these misfortunes began to take their toll. He worked too hard and started to look tired and uptight. He made statements that were confusing if not outright misleading. Two weeks after his program became public, out of the blue Gyurcsány announced that actually "more decisive and deeper changes are necessary." His program didn't seem to satisfy anyone. The employees thought it was too much while the employers thought it was too little. Meanwhile economic predictions darkened.

It was under these circumstances that Gyurcsány got together for a longer discussion. The weekend meeting began on Friday, March 13, and ended on Saturday. There were about 12-14 people present– Gyurcsány's old friends and present colleagues. The meeting took place somewhere outside Budapest though we don't know the name of the town. Gyurcsány joined them only on March 14 and he listened to the two different strategies outlined. One of them was his conditional resignation through the constructive no confidence vote. We don't know what the other scenario was, but most likely something that would have ensured his survival. The people present were afraid that Gyurcsány might think they were urging him to leave. But after he read the prepared material, he said: "Yes, I understand." He also assured them that "he didn't think that we want to betray him." Apparently he said that he thought all this through at least a thousand times and before his final decision he would go over all the pros and cons again. Gyurcsany alone

Gyurcsány allegedly informed his chief-of-staff, Ádán Ficsor, who was supposed to look into the legal side of things and make sure that the transition would be smooth. That was on Monday, March 16. Besides Ficsor, only his wife knew about his plans. During the week nothing indicated that Gyurcsány was planning to make a dramatic announcement. On Monday and Tuesday he was present at the parliamentary session but didn't speak. On Wednesday he travelled to Frankfurt where he talked with financial analysts and investors. From there he went to Brussels to the European Union summit. Most likely it was here that he wrote his "resignation" speech. After they left the meeting he retired to his hotel room where he most likely worked on the speech into the wee hours. At least he looked very tired the next morning. On Friday afternoon Gyurcsány arrived in Budapest where his friends and confidants got together in the Gyurcsány house and at this meeting nobody urged him to remain in his post. He delivered his valedictory speech to the party congress the next day.