PAS leaders appear to disagree with the youth wing’s criticism of the party organ.
The debate is in fact continuing, but is eclipsed by public discourse on the questions of hudud and party president Abdul Hadi Awang’s emergence as a contender for the prime minister’s post.
During the muktamar, several delegates from the party’s youth wing accused Harakah of having strayed from its purpose as a medium for members to be informed about PAS’s internal activities, obviously in reference to its current functioning as a newspaper in competition with others on the market, albeit with a slant towards opposition politics.
However, remarks that party leaders have made since the close of the convention indicate that they are in favour of the paper expanding further as a publication for general circulation.
Harakah was founded in 1987. For a decade or so, it did function strictly as an internal organ of PAS. However, after Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the Federal Cabinet in 1998, it became the de facto newspaper for the Reformasi movement that emerged from the ensuing political turmoil.
It has not looked back since. Some estimates put its current monthly street circulation at more than 100,000.
Its online version is also popular. Besides that, it has developed several multimedia applications and has many sister media brands, such as PAS TV. So, although the Home Ministry permit for the printed Harakah restricts its circulation only to party members, its outreach is much wider.
The criticism against it at the muktamar was so intense that PAS Youth chief Nasruddin Hassan Tantawi was forced to issue a call for calm.
At a press conference during the muktamar, Abdul Hadi was obliged to weigh in on the issue. He said Harakah’s directors were in a dilemma over whether to let the paper remain as a party organ—at least officially—or to change its status into a newspaper for general circulation.
Some have taken this to be a hint from the party president that he disagreed with the youth wing’s criticisms.
Indeed, the tone of comments from other party leaders indicate that they believe Harakah should expand its horizons.
“Over time, there is a need to refresh the content and make it concurrent to the socio-economic and religious agenda of the present age,” said the party’s secretary-general, Mustafa Ali.
‘PAS for all’
Mazlan Aliman, a former director of Harakah, echoed this view. He said the paper’s content should reflect the “PAS for all” slogan.
Former secretary-general Kamaruddin Jaafar, who was once also a member of the Harakah board, agreed with Mazlan, saying it would only be natural for the paper to grow in line with the party’s growth.
He said the paper, by including articles that go beyond PAS politics, would encourage readers to continue supporting it.
But for Harakah to operate as a bona fide paper, it will sometimes have to be critical even of PAS leaders. Can the party accept this?
Kamaruddin said this should be no problem as long as the criticism is constructive. All newspapers needed to play their role as the conscience of society and politicians must accept criticism as part of the check and balance process of democracy, he added.