THE People's Action Party will not falter on guarding the race-and religion-free common space that allows Singapore's different ethnic groups to live together harmoniously, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.
Making his first public comments on a campaign to allow Muslim women to don the hijab in uniform, which is disallowed for some professions, Mr Lee broadened the issue into one of maintaining a "Singaporean Singapore".
In Singapore, people have not been forced to conform to one culture and every group has extensive freedom to practise their own religion, he said.
But the other side of this arrangement is the groups' commitment to accommodating the common space - "to compromise, to give and take, be pragmatic" - without which Singapore will be weakened, he said.
Without this, different groups will cross paths once in a while but exist in separate social circles, which is "not what we mean by social cohesion", he said.
Mr Lee emphasised that every group in Singapore wants "things to be more their way".
The Chinese community wants more Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools where Mandarin is the first language and more public signs and train announcements in Mandarin.
The Malay community wants women to be allowed to wear the hijab with uniforms, and more government help for madrasahs.
The Indian community wants the wider use of Tamil in public signs like at the airport, and support and status for other Indian languages besides Tamil.