PDP and DNT gain from DPT’s loss

Politics: While there is a mass exodus of members from two political parties – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) – the other three parties have gained, at least in terms of number of registered members, after the 2013 general election.

Five political parties together have 1,824 registered members across the country today. This is a drop by 617 members in just one year.  There were 2,441 members in 2013. With the current trend, there are only about two registered members per 1,000 people or 39 persons per constituency.

Records with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) show that DPT is the biggest loser of the post election exodus of members. Over the last one and half years, DPT’s membership fell by 90 percent from 799 in 2013 to just 75 this month.

DPT had the highest number of members during the election period in 2013.

However, membership of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) has increased.

While PDP’s membership has grown from 242 in 2013 to 309, BKP saw 16 new members, from 413 to 429.

DNT made the biggest gain of about 200 members after the election period and is the biggest party in terms of membership with 634 members. BKP comes second and DCT third with 377 members.

DPT general secretary Ugyen Dorji said that people told them that they could support the part without becoming members. “Going on a membership drive would be a waste of time. People don’t get preferential treatment for being party members.”

The general secretary said though the exodus of members does not necessarily indicate the support base of a party, it does affect the financial strength of parties. Ugyen Dorji also said the number also does not translate into votes. “PDP had more members than us in 2008 but we won the election,” he said.

Ugyen Dorji said it was however not worrisome for the party as “one way or the other we are in the limelight”. “Parties outside the Parliament will have to keep doing something to remain in the limelight.”

DCT president Lily Wangchuk said the trend of people leaving political parties is “a serious concern” for democracy. She said it is difficult for political parties to keep the number because the laws are “not supportive.”

“What political parties are for democracy, a strong membership base is for political parties. But there are more disadvantages than advantages of being a member of a political party,” she said.  “We need strong membership bases for parties.” Lily Wangchuk said most of her party members come from villages.

PDP general secretary Sonam Jatso said many party members resigned to take part in the 2016 local government elections. PDP’s members contribute 10 percent of their salaries to the party fund.

However, DNT general secretary Tenzin Lekphel said the number of members indicates the support base of a political party. He said that the numbers indicate that the DNT enjoys the largest support base. “The strength of the party lies in the strength of its members and their diverse background.”

He said there is a lot of interest for new members while a few members have resigned to be able to contest in the 2016 local government elections. “However, we are happy to see that DNT is seeing an increase in membership.”

Tenzin Lekphel warned that members would leave if parties that win election were only bothered to look after themselves – like raising their own salary and fighting for their unfair vehicle quota system. “People have the right to abandon the party.”

BKP President Sonam Tobgay said the number is an indicator of a party’s support base. “We keep in touch with people over phone, meet the sick and try to help our constituents within our capacity,” he said.

Chief election commissioner (CEC) Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, “The numbers with all the parties except DPT are reasonable”. In the recent months, few members were deregistering for employment, studies, and interest to contest local government elections in 2016, he said.

The CEC said that in any dynamic political system, movement of people between political parties particularly among the general membership and younger lot is expected as they understand and grow up in partisan politics and thoughts. “As such there are few members quitting each party for good or to switch alliances.”

“As to new membership we feel the momentum will pick up only preceding the next parliamentary elections, which is due in 2018,” he said.

Dasho Kunzang said while the number as such is not significant, it is still good for the health of a party. In fact, parties are motivated and have collectively committed to work together as “Bhutanese First” to support democratic governance and culture through various activities they are initiating under the Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD). BDD is a platform jointly formed under their joint initiative of the political parties.

Under BDD senior executives of political parties will soon be making visits to the dzongkhags to meet with electorates and supporters and undertake meaningful dialogue with the public. ECB also recently completed nationwide training for party coordinators, jabchorpas and leyjeypas on the roles and responsibilities of political parties.

“Therefore, a number of meaningful activities pertaining to political parties are underway. The registration status of political parties remains unchanged as of date,” Dasho said.


By MB Subba