Following the 2018 National Assembly elections, there was a drastic decline in the number of party members. But the overall membership of political parties in Bhutan is on a steady increase.
Despite the dissolution of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), the total number of registered party members in the country surged by about 1,600 percent from 2013 to 2018, according to records released by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).
In absolute terms, the combined membership of political parties increased drastically from 1,429 to 22,909 during that period. There were only four political parties in the 2018 election, one down from the previous election.
Resignation of members from political parties right after the general elections has been a common phenomenon in Bhutanese politics.
The electoral law requires a person to be apolitical to be eligible to contest local government elections or apply for jobs. Some members do not like to be associated with political parties after the conclusion of the election.
More than 11,000 members have de-registered from political parties after the conclusion of last year’s National Assembly election. Most of those who left their parties were Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) members.
However, despite the mass resignation of members from DNT, the post-election overall membership of the four political parties has increased from 1,443 in 2014 to 12,257 in 2019. This means that today there are over 10,800 more registered members in four parties than that of 2014 when there were five parties.
Five years ago, the largest pre-election membership of the five political parties was 977, which belonged to Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and the smallest was DNT’s 135.
Except in the case of DPT, the number of people signing up for political parties kept increasing post the 2013 election. But five years ago, the individual party’s membership remained in mere few hundreds till the approach of last year’s election.
Today, a year after the election, individual party memberships are in the thousands, except for DNT, which has only 151 members. People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Opposition DPT each have more than 5,000 members. There has been no significant decline in the membership of PDP and BKP.
An increase in the membership contributes positively and vice versa to the party’s exchequer in the form of registration fees and voluntary contributions.
According to members, they take party membership for various reasons, which includes the aspiration for becoming a Member of Parliament, family and peer pressures and hope for favours from the government and MPs.
A member of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP), Sajan Rai, in an earlier interview said that it was because of the party’s ideology that he joined the party. He said that being in the party helped him grow as a person.
“People know me through BKP and we as members also get opportunities for capacity building workshops,” he said.
A DPT member from Sarpang, Deo Kumar Rimal, said it was his interests to serve people and to be connected with people that inspired him to join politics in last year. He said that joining politics helped him to express views on behalf of the voiceless.
He said that he was inspired by the party’s ideology and that he wanted to contribute to the country and its economy. He said that he wanted to contribute to the growth of economy, “the bed rock of democracy”.
A PDP member said that some people are joining party with the hopes of getting a party ticket in upcoming the election. “Most people prefer to join the party that has the maximum chance of winning the election,” he said.
A supporter of DNT said that his association with the party helped him in reaching out to the relevant ministry in times of problems.
However, despite the increase in the numbers not all political have membership base in all 20 dzongkhags. The DNT does not have any registered member from Samdrupjongkhar and Zhemgang.
DNT is the only party that has suffered a significant decline in its membership strength. General secretary of DNT, Phurba, earlier said that some members wanted to participate in local elections or look for jobs.
Lack of a membership base in all 20 dzongkhags was one of the grounds on which the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) denied registration to aspiring political parties in 2017.
The Political Parties Rules and Regulations states that a party should have broad-based and cross-national membership and support in all dzongkhags.
Party officials said that the membership size does not necessarily indicate the support base of a party although membership strengthen intra-party democracy and helps the party maintain the public confidence in the party.
Considering that civil servants, corporate employees members of armed forces, local leaders and corporate employees cannot take part in politics, Bhutan has a small pool of people who can be active in politics.
A total of 438,663 Bhutanese citizens, excluding religious personalities, were above 18 years of age as of July last year as per the ECB.
A rough calculation shows that about 2.8 percent of Bhutanese are registered members of political parties. This is considering that about 51,000 productive Bhutanese above 18 years including about 13,000 corporate employees must remain apolitical.