With declaration of political candidates gaining momentum and their supporters registering with parties, political parties are seeing an increase in their membership numbers.

Except in special cases, the political parties rule 2015 prohibits parties from registering new members once the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) releases the election schedule.

According to the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) secretariat, the party’s membership is growing with the registration of new members and old ones renewing their membership.

The party’s spokesperson Lily Wangchuk said the party currently has about 2,500 registered members although the party has not submitted to the ECB the recent list.

In 2013, DPT had about 800 registered members, which dropped to about 80 in 2016. Party officials attribute the resignation of their members to local government elections and lack of roles after the election.

Members not only strengthen the support base but also contribute to the party’s exchequer.

The spokesperson said the party is currently operating with minimum funds with nominal contribution from the current MPs and that it is trying to mobilise funds through voluntary contributions from few registered members.

“While our number of registered members may look nominal, our support base across the country is huge and highly encouraging,” the spokesperson said.

She said funds are necessary and important to the extent of carrying out various important activities of the party. DPT’s membership fee for a new member is Nu 100, and the renewal fee for old members is Nu 50.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) general secretary Tenzin Lekphel claimed that DNT had almost 6,000 registered members as of yesterday.

DNT had 135 members in 2013. The number increased to 237 in 2016.

The party collects Nu 100 as registration fee and Nu 200 as annual membership fee. “Money is important for the party to run its machinery for election,” he said.

Registration and membership fees, and voluntary contributions from registered members make up the income of political parties.

A political party can accept up to Nu 500,000 in voluntary contributions from its registered members, as per the election Act. Registered members can also make contributions in kind of up to equivalent value.

He said both the party and candidates are still getting their supporters registered. “There are some who call our office and walk in to get registered as member and show their support,” Tenzin Lekphel said.

He said that although DNT does not have membership target as such, the party wants to have members representing all sections of the society such as famers, students, unemployed youth, men, women and the business community covering all polling stations.

People’s Democratic party’s (PDP) general secretary, Sonam Jatso said the party hasn’t yet started its membership drive.

“Most of our candidates are still serving in the government and as Members of Parliament.  Our candidates will lead the membership drive and work on it when they go to their constituencies,” he said.

As of now, he said that the party has more than 1,000 registered members.

PDP had about 240 registered members in 2013, which increased to 336 in 2016.

Sonam Jatso said PDP is in the process of considering reducing the membership fee on the recommendation of party coordinators, party workers and candidates.

“We are receiving reports that there are huge numbers of people from all across the country wishing to register as our member but cannot afford the membership fees,” he said.

PDP’s registration fee is Nu 100 and annual membership fee is Nu 200. Sonam Jatso said the party hasn’t started mobilising funds.

“Money is essential for elections. But our priority is to have a credible party. Towards that goal, we have been working hard to find good candidates in every constituency,” he said.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) did not respond to Kuensel’s queries despite repeated requests. BKP had 253 members in 2013, which increased to 424 in 2016.

MB Subba