Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia Group, has issued an apology via video, attempting to explain the rationale behind his sudden, and rather out of character, politicization in favor of Barisan Nasional days before the election.
He now says that the move came after intense strong-arming and threats from the government at the time, and that he regretfully succumbed to their pressure.
Speaking frankly in the video clip released yesterday, he apologizes for “what has gone on” and says that he “buckled at the crucial moment in our history.”
The clip is worth a watch in its entirety for its very open and honest tone, and to understand just how far government reach went with the ruling party we had for the past six decades.
AirAsia shares fell 10% this morning, but have made some recovery.
Last week, Fernandes endorsed former Prime Minister Najib Razak via video, and then personally flew an AirAsiaX plane to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, where Najib was campaigning at the time, to take him back to Kuala Lumpur.
The plane’s signature red exterior had been repainted blue, and splashed across it was the BN logo and slogan. Cabin crew were made abandon their signature red uniforms in favor of matching outfits in the cobalt blue shade of the party.
The move drew the ire of many Malaysians, some bringing up the fact that AirAsia has an employee policy that forbids political campaigning, while a union representing the cabin crew condemned the move, saying it made employees political stooges.
Accusations hurled at Fernandes himself essentially called the CEO, who paints himself as a man of the people and tarmac, a Quisling.
Revealing the full-extent of the previous government’s intimidation tactics, Fernandes says they told him flat-out to cancel the extra 120 flights that had been ordered in lieu of the midweek election. The airline was also summoned by regulator the Malaysian Aviation Commission to comply, and stop the extra flights.
An indication that not all was well within the ruling government’s sense of pre-election confidence, any move perceived to facilitate democracy was viewed as suspicious. One MP went as far as accusing Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific of wanting regime change.
Fernandes refused to cancel the flights that he had promised voters. He also refused to fire his AirAsiaX chairwoman, Rafidah Aziz, another demand placed on him by the government. Rafidah is a former minister who had been ardently campaigning for Mahathir. She is an incredibly popular figure among Malaysians, and as her profile grew, so did the pressure to fire her.
Rafidah issued her own statement this weekend that echoed this narrative: Fernandes and AirAsia co-founder Kamarudin Meranun met her to relay a message from the PM’s office to stop attacking him.
DEAR ALL, With PH already voted in by the Rakyat and by the Grace of the Almighty, it is time to set the record…
She acknowledged that the message was clear, and received; however, she would not comply with their demands, and she would continue to speak out. She added that no one can stop her from saying what are facts and the truth (Ed: ZING).
After Rafidah then offered to resign, Fernandes and Kamarudin refused, telling her that she was respected and loved and a part of their team.
Allowing her to remain, and continue speaking out, came at a cost – and Rafidah says that the price was the publicity blitz to KK in a freshly painted plane. Fernandes had to placate the PM, and the self-sacrifice was the only way he could do that.
We all know what happened next — Fernandes was “publicly crucified.”
Others within Mahathir’s party have also come forward, calling Fernandes an unsung hero, and saying that they understood that he did what he had to, but he was still a friend.
Youth leader Syed Saddiq wrote that Tony was pushed into a corner, and reminded that the airline facilitated cheap and frequent travel for Malaysians across the peninsula, giving cut-rate flights especially between East Malaysian and peninsular Malaysia, and refusing BN’s demands to cancel them.
While the public’s jets cool regarding the issue, the Malaysian Aviation Commission is now investigating the claims made by the AirAsia honcho, and say they are taking it “very seriously.”