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AirAsia looks to win back trust after supporting ousted Malaysian leader

Reuters  |  SINGAPORE 

By Jamie Freed

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Group Bhd will be looking to mend relations with customers and a new government after its boss backed ousted Malaysian leader Razak, analysts and experts said.

Veteran Mahathir Mohamad, 92, came out of retirement to lead the opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) to a stunning victory last week over a ruling party he once led, defeating Najib, a former protege he accused of corruption.

That spooked some investors in the budget carrier, one of Malaysia's best-known international brands, even as Fernandes on Sunday apologised for endorsing

Shares in tumbled nearly 10 percent on Monday before closing down 5.4 percent in the first trading session since Wednesday's election, as investors fretted over its relationship with a new government in where it has the biggest domestic market share.

However, Corrine Png, of Singapore-based transport research firm Crucial Perspective, said she did not see any lasting demand to AirAsia's brand from its links to Najib's party.

"There are simply too many BN-linked companies and consumers have long understood that businesses need political affiliations in Malaysia," she said.

was second only to on a "crony capitalism" index published two years ago by the magazine, showing how closely business fortunes have relied on political connections in the Southeast Asian economy.

OVER ONE MILLION VIEWS

Fernandes said on Sunday a video praising was an effort to appease the government after he came under "intense" pressure in the lead-up to elections for adding extra flights on polling day and refusing to fire the X Bhd, who had expressed support for Mahathir.

The video apology on has been viewed more than 1.5 million times and attracted more than 8,000 comments, in a sign of the attention Fernandes' political stance has attracted in its home market.

Social, which monitors social media data, said its analysis had shown reactions to Fernandes' apology were mixed, with emojis ranging from hearts in posts calling him an "unsung hero" to snakes in those asking him to step down.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) officials have not commented on whether AirAsia could be punished for Fernandes' support of Najib during the election campaign. On Friday, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a PH lawmaker, said on that Fernandes was an "unspoken hero," and had helped them from the start but couldn't disclose it to the public due to fear of repression.

AirAsia has several airlines in various Asian countries but is its largest contributor to earnings and it is the country's largest domestic carrier by market share.

In a highly regulated industry where its main rival is state-owned Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia relies on government approvals to support its growth plans.

Png at said it was possible AirAsia would launch extra promotions to entice consumers after Fernandes' apology which could place pressure on the airline's revenue in the short term at a time when fuel prices have risen.

But others disagree, saying running a special promotion could backfire.

"It would look like they are trying to buy back trust - and trust is something that needs to be earned instead," said Lars Voedisch, of Singapore-based PRecious Communications.

"You can't advertise or buy yourself out of a reputational crisis."

An AirAsia declined to comment.

(Reporting by in Singapore; additional reporting by in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by and Mark Potter)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, May 14 2018. 18:15 IST
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