The number of registered members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is falling to record lows this year, raising serious financial worries for the party, local party officials said yesterday.
Membership at the DPP’s Taipei, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung chapters — three of its largest — would drop 90 percent from last year when the final numbers are released later this month, they said.
By yesterday’s midnight deadline, only about 3,500 party members, or about one-tenth of registered members, had paid their party dues, DPP Tainan branch director Tsai Wan-chuan (蔡旺詮) said.
In Taipei, chapter director Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) said only 4,300 had paid the NT$300 fee, about 11 percent of the total number registered. Similar stories were being reported in Greater Kaohsiung and New Taipei City (新北市).
The trend, if replicated in the party’s other local chapters nationwide, would mean that overall DPP membership could drop to its lowest in two decades, down from a high of 544,000 in 2006.
The drop in membership rosters is the latest in a five-year-trend that began in 2006, when former chairperson Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) resigned from the party and former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) became embroiled in financial scandals.
The development was confirmed by DPP spokesperson Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦), who said the Jan. 22 decision to remove members’ votes in the party’s nomination mechanism played a part.
However, he said the party had looked at both sides of the issue when it made the decision and denied the decrease in members would undermine the DPP’s image, especially as it heads into the presidential election.
DPP lawmakers told the Taipei Times they did not find the trend “too alarming,” as the reforms “were legitimate.”
“The people who believe in the party will continue to do so,” DPP Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如) said.
Since DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) election to the post in 2008, party rosters have dropped from 484,000 to about 148,000, mostly as a result of crackdowns on “phantom members,” party sources said.
The DPP has not published exact membership numbers since 2009.
Phantom members, or people who are signed up by politicians to manipulate the primaries, were also the reason why the DPP congress voted on Jan. 22 to eliminate the party member vote in favor of solely using telephone polls in the nominations.
The backlash has nevertheless been strong, especially among grassroots members, party -officials said, as party members are unhappy with losing their vote.
“I think there is a growing distance between the party and our base supporters … which is at least partly responsible for the declining numbers [in Tainan],” Tsai Wan-chuan said.
As a result, local chapters have been forced to think of new ways to raise money, Tsai Wan-chuan said.
DPP officials said they did not expect the final numbers to be compiled until after the Lunar New Year holidays, as the dues are paid via convenience stores and bank transfers.
Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌), another DPP spokesperson, was more optimistic, saying the party would likely rebound next year, when more members accept the revisions and sign up to vote in the local delegate elections.
Meanwhile, former DPP Presidential Office secretary-general Chen Shih-meng (陳師孟) launched a challenge to the nomination revisions, calling on an independent arbitration committee to determine whether it violated the party charter.