Gyurcsány was born in Pápa, Hungary, into an impoverished middle-class family as the only son of Ferenc Gyurcsány Sr. and Katalin Varga. He has a sister, Éva. According to contemporary police documents, Gyurcsány's father was convicted on charges of minor crimes (low value thefts and fraud) multiple times. Due to the frequency of his father's alcohol consumption, Gyurcsány spent his childhood in poor conditions, but his mother's thrifty management provided orderly and healthy living standards.
Gyurcsány attended the Apáczai Csere János High School in Budapest for two years; he then returned to Pápa to graduate. He studied as a teacher and obtained his B.Sc. in 1984 from the University of Pécs. Then he studied economics at the same institution, getting his degree in 1990.
In 1981 he assumed function in the KISZ, the Organisation of Young Communists, where he mostly handled organizing student programs at the beginning. Between 1984 and 1988 he was the vice president of the organisation's committee in Pécs. Then between 1988 and 1989 he was the president of the central KISZ committee of universities and colleges. After the political change in 1989 he became vice-president of the organisation's short-lived quasi successor, the Hungarian Democratic Youth Association (DEMISZ).
From 1990 onwards, he transferred from the public to the private sector, working for CREDITUM Financial Consultant Ltd. until 1992, serving as director of EUROCORP International Finance Inc. in 1992. Gyurcsany then took the position of CEO at Altus Ltd., a holding company of which he was owner, from 1992–2002 and thereafter as Chairman of the Board. By 2002, he was listed as the fiftieth-richest person in Hungary.
Gyurcsány returned to politics in 2002 as the head strategic advisor of Péter Medgyessy, the previous Prime Minister of Hungary. From May 2003 until September 2004 Gyurcsány was a minister responsible for sports, youth and children.
He became the president of the MSZP in Győr-Moson-Sopron county in January 2004, serving until September 2004. In the summer of that same year it seemed that there were larger problems in his relationship with Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy, so he resigned as minister. In a week, problems in the coalition led to the resignation of Medgyessy, and MSZP voted Gyurcsány to become Prime Minister as he was acceptable for the coalition partner, Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ).
Gyurcsány was reappointed Prime Minister after the 2006 parliamentary elections, with his coalition taking 210 of the available 386 parliamentary seats, and making him the first Prime Minister to keep the office after a general election since 1990.
On 24 February 2007, he became the leader of his party (being the only candidate for the post) gaining 89% of the vote.
Since his 2006 election victory he has introduced austerity measures to tackle Hungary's budget deficit that had grown to become 10% of the GDP by the end of 2006. These austerity measures have been criticized by the main opposition party Fidesz on the one hand as being too harsh on the people, on the other hand by conservative economists for not reducing spending enough on social benefits, including pensions.
Gyurcsány was the first prime minister since the fall of communism to try to introduce a health care reform in order to rationalize and modernize the national health care system. His efforts for a renewed and more efficient health care however, have been undermined mainly by his own party, as many Socialist Party members regard this reform as a threat to the communist-era achievement of free and equal health care service to all.
On 17 September 2006, an audio recording surfaced, allegedly from a closed-door meeting of the Prime Minister's party MSZP, held on 26 May 2006, shortly after MSZP won the election. On the recording, Gyurcsány admitted "we have obviously been lying for the last one and a half to two years." ("Nyilvánvalóan végighazudtuk az utolsó másfél-két évet."). Despite public outrage, the Prime Minister refused to resign, and a series of demonstrations started near the Hungarian Parliament, swelling from 2,000 to about 8,000 demonstrators calling for the resignation of Gyurcsány and his government for several weeks. The Prime Minister admitted the authenticity of the recording.
On 1 October, the governing party suffered a landslide defeat in the local municipal elections. On the eve of the elections, before the results were known, President László Sólyom gave a speech in which he said that the solution to the situation is in the hands of the majority in Parliament.
As Prime Minister, Gyurcsány was a strong advocate of the South Stream pipeline project, which aimed to supply Russian gas directly to the European Union (EU), bypassing transit countries such as Ukraine. He signed the contract in Moscow just a week before the popular election in Hungary, which showed around 80% of the votes were against the government reforms.
On 6 October 2006, Gyurcsány won a vote of confidence in Parliament, 207–165, with no coalition MP voting against him. The vote was public.
On 21 March 2009, Gyurcsány announced his intention to resign as Prime Minister. He stated that he was a hindrance to further economic and social reforms. Gyurcsány asked his party to find a new candidate for prime minister in two weeks. President László Sólyom stated that instead of a short-term transactional government ruling only until the 2010 elections, early elections should be held. In the search for a new prime minister, György Surányi became the frontrunner candidate for the post; however, on 26 March he pulled out of the race. On 28 March, Gyurcsány resigned from his position as party chairman.
In the 2010 parliamentary elections he was elected into the Parliament still as a member of MSZP, but he became more and more critical of the party's politics. Since his attempts at reforming the party failed, he left MSZP and founded a new party, the Democratic Coalition (Demokratikus Koalíció, DK) in October 2011. As a leader of DK, he announced that his party will support Gordon Bajnai as a candidate for prime minister in 2014.
In September 2012, the ruling Fidesz proposed a voter-registration plan, which, according to the opposition, "would have restricted the right to vote". Gyurcsány and three other members of his party participated in a week-long hunger strike against the proposal. Later, in January 2013, the Constitutional Court of Hungary struck down the new electoral law as unconstitutional; after that decision, Fidesz caucus dropped the law. Gyurcsány referred to that act as his party's success.
On 14 January 2014, the Democratic Coalition and four other groups founded Unity, a political alliance with the aim of defeating Fidesz at the elections in the spring. The alliance made it into the Parliament, but only as opposition. DK won only four seats, which meant that since they were below the minimum requirements of forming a parliamentary group (five seats), its MPs (including Gyurcsány) officially count as independent politicians.
Gyurcsány is currently married to his third wife. He has two sons (Péter and Bálint) from his second marriage with Edina Bognár, and three children (Anna, Tamás and Márton) from his third marriage. His spouse is Klára Dobrev, whose maternal grandfather Antal Apró was Hungary's Minister of Industry in the 1950s–60s.
He got his nickname "Fletó" from one of his teachers. While Prime Minister of Hungary, he did not pick up his paycheck, but instead, he donated it to varying organizations.
The origin of his wealth is regularly questioned by the media and political opposition. The weekly paper HVG writes about a biography of Gyurcsány: "[it] concludes that talent played a greater role than corruption in Gyurcsány's success. We have to question this claim. Not just because former functionaries are massively overrepresented among Gyurcsány's business partners, but also because, despite his enormous talent for business, Gyurcsány would never have got where he is today without making use of the contacts and support base of the former state party." József Debreczeni, the biographer in question, originally reached the conclusion "regarding party connections and performance, the latter has been more important".
Opposition MP Péter Szijjártó, as the head of a committee set up to investigate the origins of Gyurcsány's wealth, stated in his report that one of Gyurcsány's companies leased the former vacation site of the Hungarian government in Balatonőszöd and rented the site back to a state-owned company so that the rent paid by the government covered exactly the leasing fee during the first two and a half years of the ten-year lease term (1994–2004).
A person named "Gyurcsányi" was mentioned by Attila Kulcsár, the main defendant in the high-profile "K&H Equities" money laundering scandal in Hungary. The prime minister denied he had any connections with the case.
In an article published on 2 April 2012, Pécsi Újság called into question whether Gyurcsány submitted a diploma thesis. István Geresdi, Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Pécs told Pécsi Újság that they were unable to find Gyurcsány's diploma thesis. He further added that Gyurcsány's thesis was the only missing work from that time period. On 3 April Gyurcsány published a page from his course record book that stated that he submitted and defended a college thesis. He also stated that he did not know where his own copy of his thesis was, but he would make efforts to locate and publish it. After two weeks, on 13 April he announced that he failed to find his copy of the thesis. On 27 April Hír TV, a government-leaning television channel announced that they have found evidence that Szabolcs Rozs, who was Gyurcsány's brother-in-law in 1984, submitted a college thesis at the same college and department as Gyurcsány, with a title identical to Gyurcsány's work, in 1980. Three days later, on 30 April Hír Tv announced that they have located and compared the reviews of both Rozs's and Gyurcsány's work, and found that based on the common errors and omissions, the two texts are likely to be identical, supporting the allegations of plagiarism.
He often displays himself in the role of an anti-fascist politician, who is strongly against the Hungarian radicalism and anti-semitism. However, he is the subject of criticism by his political opponents for the luxury villa of Rózsadomb in which he lives and is now the property of his recent wife, having been taken away from a Jewish family twice; first it was misappropriated when Hungary was under the rule of Arrow Cross Party, and then again during the time of the communist dictatorship of Mátyás Rákosi.
On 2 September 2004, he said in the Hungarian national television: "Who has a two-room-apartment, would in general deserve three; who has three, four; who has four, a house. Who has an eld..., olderly, elderly?... olderly [struggling with an unintended portmanteau] wife, a younger one; who has a badly behaved kid, a well-behaved. Of course, he would deserve." This triggered outrage from feminist organisations, women in general, and the opposition.
On 2 February 2005, at the birthday party of the Hungarian Socialist Party, for the sake of a joke, Gyurcsány referred to the players of the Saudi national football team as terrorists. Later he apologized, but the kingdom recalled its ambassador from Hungary for a time.
During the 2006 general election campaign, a video appeared where Gyurcsány danced as Hugh Grant in Love Actually. According to government officials, the spokesperson of the government asked Gyurcsány to dance, as they re-made most parts of the film as a special gift for the wedding of spokesman András Batiz. Opposition claimed that the video was made public on purpose, as part of the election campaign, to gain popularity for the PM among young adults.
After his return to politics, Gyurcsány was at first tight-lipped on his religious affiliation, leading many to assume that he is an atheist. In an interview aired on TV2 during the 2006 parliamentary election campaign, Gyurcsány said that as a teenager, he "took part in confirmation for about two years" and even considered becoming a priest. Since confirmation can only be taken once, some regarded this claim as a giveaway that he was not telling the truth, while others such as Catholic bishop Endre Gyulay supposed he meant he took part in preparations for a confirmation.
In connection with the unrest fuelled by his speech, he has been criticised in The Economist for "turning a blind eye to police brutality".
On 13 January 2009, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, travelled to Budapest to ask Gyurcsány about their agreement made in October, regarding the stabilization of Hungarian government spending.
As a Prime Minister, Gyurcsány was said to be an advocate of the South Stream pipeline project, which is aimed to supply Russian gas directly to EU, bypassing transit countries such as Ukraine. He signed the contract in Moscow just week before a referendum at Hungary, which showed around 80% of the votes were against the government reforms. However, the questions of the referendum (two concerning health care and one concerning education) had no relation to the issue of possible pipelines built in the country. Gyurcsány stated that it is an unlucky situation for a country to have only one supplier (Russia) of any resource, which in this particular case is natural gas. He said the South Stream pipeline only diversifies routes from the same source country. He also advocated the Nabucco Pipeline which was planned to transfer gas from the Middle-East, as he considered this as a pipeline which diversifies the source of natural gas also.