AirAsia boss apologises for Malaysia poll stunt

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AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes (above) on Sunday apologised for a controversial stunt endorsing scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak before Malaysia's general election, in which he suffered a stunning defeat.
MAY 14, 2018 - 9:42 AM

Kuala Lumpur

AIRASIA boss Tony Fernandes on Sunday apologised for a controversial stunt endorsing scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak before Malaysia's general election, in which he suffered a stunning defeat.

Mr Fernandes said he came under pressure from Mr Najib's government before the May 9 vote, causing him to issue a video enthusiastically crediting its policies for the success of the homegrown low-cost carrier. But the Barisan Nasional coalition suffered a humiliating defeat on Wednesday at the hands of an opposition alliance led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92.

Mr Fernandes was strongly criticised online for the stunt endorsing Mr Najib, who has been linked to a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal involving Malaysian state fund 1MDB. A photo showing Mr Fernandes with Mr Najib on board an AirAsia plane was widely circulated during the election campaign. That plane was painted in the blue colours of Mr Najib's Barisan Nasional coalition. Mr Fernandes even changed the uniforms of AirAsia flight attendants from red to blue during that trip.

But in a video posted on his Facebook page on Sunday, a sombre-looking Mr Fernandes apologised for his "grave error of judgement". "I'm sorry for what has gone on. I buckled at a crucial moment in our history," he said. He added that he had been under "tremendous" pressure from the then-government to sack popular former trade minister Rafidah Aziz, who is on the board of AirAsia's long-haul budget arm AirAsia X, because she was campaigning for the opposition.

Mr Najib's government was also angry at him for adding extra flights to ferry people at low fares to their provinces so that they could cast their votes, and told him to cancel those flights, he said. Mr Fernandes said he "foolishly" thought that he could appease the government by coming up with the endorsement video. "Under the intense pressure, I buckled. It wasn't right, I'll forever regret it but it was a decision made at the spur of the moment," he said. "I apologise again for the pain and the hurt I caused." AFP