No lack of Malay/Muslim candidates for PAP: Yaacob

SINGAPORE - There is no lack of bright young Malay/Muslim Singaporeans who can be fielded as People's Action Party (PAP) candidates in the next general election, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim.

But he is concerned about their relative lack of community experience, compared to previous generations who grew up in a society that needed much help.

As he was among the few in his kampung to enter university, others would ask him to help with schoolwork, said Dr Yaacob, 58, a former structural engineer.

But society has since progressed and basic needs are looked after, he noted. "Some (candidates) have never been to a Meet-the-People Session," Dr Yaacob said in an interview with the media last week.

"Some of them have not done Malay-related community work. So I said, 'Do you want to be a volunteer at Mendaki?'"

It is important that potential candidates feel for the Malay/Muslim community, said Dr Yaacob, whose political career spans 16 years.

This is on top of being comfortable in the public eye and in meeting people, and having the interest to probe and understand policy issues and debate them in Parliament.

He said: "You need to get your feet wet and understand what the community is all about. If you don't feel for the community and you don't understand their aspirations, how are you going to do your job?"

One community aspiration raised of late is the desire of Muslim women to be allowed to wear the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, in some occupations that do not permit it, like the police force and nursing.

Dr Yaacob said he and other Malay/Muslim MPs have met hospital officials to understand the reasons - such as hygiene - for barring nurses from donning the hijab.

They had also raised the nurses' feedback with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after the 2011 General Election but recognised the Government's concerns about other communities' reactions to the issue.

At the PAP convention on Sunday, Mr Lee spoke about maintaining a "Singaporean Singapore" - where every group is free to practise their religion but they must commit to accommodate the common space without which Singapore would be weakened.

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