As political parties make their final push for support, party membership has surged drastically over the months, surpassing that of the 2013 National Assembly elections.
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) had a total of 4,877 registered members submitted to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) until recently, which was the highest among the parties.
As of July, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) had the second largest membership base with 2,186 registered members, followed by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) with 1,298 members as of June. Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) had a total of 791 registered members as of June end.
The ECB published these figures recently, and are expected to increase as parties can register new members until the announcement of the election schedule. Political parties say they will submit additional lists of members within these few days.
Following the conclusion of the 2013 National Assembly elections, DPT and PDP had faced a drastic decline in membership. DNT and BKP managed to hold the members comparatively better.
An increase in the membership contributes to the party’s exchequer in the form of registration fees and voluntary contributions. However, political parties differ on whether the membership numbers indicate the support base of individual parties.
DNT general secretary Tenzin Lekphel said the number of members indicates the support base for his party although it did not reveal the election outcome.
He said that DNT would submit additional lists of members to the ECB and claimed that his party’s membership would reach 13,000. “The bigger the number, the better the indication,” he said, adding that people’s desire for change, narrowing the gap and better health care had attracted members.
DPT spokesperson Dorji Wangdi said that all his party members registered voluntarily. “Unlike others, we are not forcing people to register as members,” he said.
The strength of parties, Dorji Wangdi said, should not be judged based on the membership strength. “We will have over 4,000 members,” he said.
PDP general secretary Jigme Zangpo said the membership base was politically significant for the parties although it was not the sole indicator of the party’s strength. “Party membership is very important politically.”
He said dzongkhag coordinators submit the membership lists to the party headquarter and that registration process was on going.
BKP vice president Sonam Tobgay said, “I think one needs to dive deeper than registered party membership because if that is an indicator, it is easy to secure over 10,000 members because BKP is one of the parties that charges the lowest in terms of registration and lowest in terms of membership, combined just Nu 200.”
Sonam Tobgay said that membership is an electoral requirement constituting regional, generational and gender distribution across all 20 dzongkhags and that BKP is more than happy to fulfil that requirement. “Membership is important but support base is equally important and that was proven well in our recent Party Convention gathering close to 6,000 people,” he said, thanking supporters for financial support.
Sonam Tobgay said that the BKP was anticipating a turn out of only 2,800 people at the recently held party convention at the RIM in Thimphu. “The turn out has put greater pressure on BKP to meet their expectations should we form the government.”
DNT has about 283 members in Trashigang, the biggest dzongkhag in terms of the number of voters. It has 616 members in Mongar and 170 in Samtse. There were about 170 members in Thimphu, the home dzongkhag of party president Dr Lotay Tshering.
About 1,700 members of DNT that time belong to Pemagatshel, which makes up about 35 percent of its total members. In Gasa, DNT has about 73 members, which is the least.
In the home dzongkhag of its president Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), DPT had about 381 members as of July. The party’s membership strength is the largest in Mongar with 498 members.
There are 103 DPT members in Trashigang, 175 members in Samtse and 498 in Mongar. The Party had only two members in Gasa, where most parties struggle to find candidates.
As of June 30, PDP had submitted 31 registered members from Haa, the home dzongkhag of party president Dasho Tshering Tobgay.
PDP had slightly over 200 members in Samtse, 190 in Thimphu and 61 in Trashigang and 195 in Dagana. The party had about 60 members in Bumthang.
BKP had 22 registered members in Samdrupjongkhar, the home dzongkhag of its president Dasho Neten Zangmo, according to the membership list with ECB as of June 30. The party had 33 members in Trashigang and 96 in Thimphu.
BKP had 15 and 65 members in Mongar and Samtse, respectively.
More join political parties
Figures show that the number of people who have registered as members of political parties for the 2018 elections is much larger than those who deregistered following the 2013 elections. Most members registered in 2017 and 2018.
Among various reasons, party members cited their desire to contest the 2016 local government elections.
Five years ago, DPT had had a total of 800 registered members, while PDP had 242. DNT had 135 members and BKP had 253 members.
The erstwhile Druk Chirwang Tshogpa headed by Lily Wangchuk then boasted of 587 registered members.
DPT’s membership fee for a new member is Nu 100, and the renewal fee for old members is Nu 50. DNT collects Nu 100 as registration fee and Nu 200 as annual membership fee.
PDP’s registration fee is Nu 100 and annual membership fee is Nu 200.
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.