AirAsia chief’s futile bid to become ASEAN Secretary-General

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Tony Fernandes ASEANTony Fernandes, flamboyant Malaysian entrepreneur, co-founder and group chief executive of AirAsia Group and chairman of Tune Group, a Kuala Lumpur-based leisure and entertainment corporation, is reportedly thinking of stepping down from his businesses to pursue new endeavours, possibly in politics, where he seems to be eyeing a leading position within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat.

“Good leadership is to know when to go and to refresh the organisation with young and energetic leaders,” he said in an interview with the Bangkok Post published on August 15, naming Aireen Omar, current CEO of AirAsia Malaysia, as one possible candidate for his succession at the helm of AirAsia Group.

“My time is coming, maybe within the next two years,” he added.

Fernandes dropped hints about his withdrawal as a business executive before, but would never be concrete about the possibility of entering politics.

However, this time he mentioned to the newspaper that “[Leading] the ASEAN Secretariat would be good” and “if you put me there, I will [sic!] make a lot of changes.”

However, it is not as easy as Fernandes might think. The ASEAN Secretary-General is normally proposed and chosen from a group of politicians or diplomats of a member country and gets appointed by the ASEAN Summit for a non-renewable term of five years. While this is not necessarily a hurdle as Fernandes could turn politician easily, the problem is that the selection of an ASEAN national to become SecGen is based on alphabetical rotation of the member countries.

The term of the current ASEAN Secretary-General, Le Luong Minh from Vietnam, ends in December 2017. As per the alphabetical rotation, the next SecGen will therefore have to come from Brunei. Being a Malaysian citizen, the earliest chance for Fernandes to become ASEAN SecGen is January 1, 2038, when he will be 73 years of age.

Even if he changes his nationality to Indonesian, a country where he currently stays most of the time after AirAsia moved its headquarters for the Southeast Asia region to Jakarta, and where the ASEAN secretariat is situated, a possible ASEAN SecGen post would be open for him not before 2028.

However, this does not mean that he isn’t allowed to take over other roles in the secretariat. Or get a Brunei passport and vie for the post.

In the past, Fernandes has been a frequent critic of the ASEAN secretariat’s performance, claiming it has been too weak or inactive to form a stronger regional bloc and push economic integration. However, he also pursued his own agenda, advocating a common ASEAN visa for non-ASEAN visitors to boost travel also for the benefit of his airline group, and a “truly single” ASEAN aviation market.

He is also commenting on Malaysian politics from time to time, unfolding his liberal, business-oriented mindset. Recently, he was quoted as saying that the Malaysian government should better “handle the economy and the plunging ringgit instead of trying to shut down the Internet,” hinting at the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak blocking Internet access to whistleblower portal Sarawak Report and others being openly critical of Razak’s alleged involvement in unexplained payments surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

However, Fernandes was hit with a strong rebuff by Abdul Rahman Dahlan, chief spokesman of the ruling Barisan Nasional party, who at least described him as a “friend” but said:

“This is a government, Tony,” Dahlan said. “We are not just talking about dollars and cents. The government is responsible for the security of the nation. As a company you might not want to be interested in the security of the nation or the unity of the people. If you are a government, you care about the economy, security and unity. It goes hand in hand.”

Next ASEAN Secretary-General rotations (assuming unchanged regulations and no new member countries):

Vietnam 2013-2017

Brunei 2018-2022

Cambodia 2023-2027

Indonesia 2028-2032

Laos 2033-2037

Malaysia 2038-2042

Myanmar 2043-2047

Philippines 2048-2052

Singapore 2053-2057

Thailand 2058-2062

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Tony Fernandes, flamboyant Malaysian entrepreneur, co-founder and group chief executive of AirAsia Group and chairman of Tune Group, a Kuala Lumpur-based leisure and entertainment corporation, is reportedly thinking of stepping down from his businesses to pursue new endeavours, possibly in politics, where he seems to be eyeing a leading position within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Tony Fernandes ASEANTony Fernandes, flamboyant Malaysian entrepreneur, co-founder and group chief executive of AirAsia Group and chairman of Tune Group, a Kuala Lumpur-based leisure and entertainment corporation, is reportedly thinking of stepping down from his businesses to pursue new endeavours, possibly in politics, where he seems to be eyeing a leading position within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat.

“Good leadership is to know when to go and to refresh the organisation with young and energetic leaders,” he said in an interview with the Bangkok Post published on August 15, naming Aireen Omar, current CEO of AirAsia Malaysia, as one possible candidate for his succession at the helm of AirAsia Group.

“My time is coming, maybe within the next two years,” he added.

Fernandes dropped hints about his withdrawal as a business executive before, but would never be concrete about the possibility of entering politics.

However, this time he mentioned to the newspaper that “[Leading] the ASEAN Secretariat would be good” and “if you put me there, I will [sic!] make a lot of changes.”

However, it is not as easy as Fernandes might think. The ASEAN Secretary-General is normally proposed and chosen from a group of politicians or diplomats of a member country and gets appointed by the ASEAN Summit for a non-renewable term of five years. While this is not necessarily a hurdle as Fernandes could turn politician easily, the problem is that the selection of an ASEAN national to become SecGen is based on alphabetical rotation of the member countries.

The term of the current ASEAN Secretary-General, Le Luong Minh from Vietnam, ends in December 2017. As per the alphabetical rotation, the next SecGen will therefore have to come from Brunei. Being a Malaysian citizen, the earliest chance for Fernandes to become ASEAN SecGen is January 1, 2038, when he will be 73 years of age.

Even if he changes his nationality to Indonesian, a country where he currently stays most of the time after AirAsia moved its headquarters for the Southeast Asia region to Jakarta, and where the ASEAN secretariat is situated, a possible ASEAN SecGen post would be open for him not before 2028.

However, this does not mean that he isn’t allowed to take over other roles in the secretariat. Or get a Brunei passport and vie for the post.

In the past, Fernandes has been a frequent critic of the ASEAN secretariat’s performance, claiming it has been too weak or inactive to form a stronger regional bloc and push economic integration. However, he also pursued his own agenda, advocating a common ASEAN visa for non-ASEAN visitors to boost travel also for the benefit of his airline group, and a “truly single” ASEAN aviation market.

He is also commenting on Malaysian politics from time to time, unfolding his liberal, business-oriented mindset. Recently, he was quoted as saying that the Malaysian government should better “handle the economy and the plunging ringgit instead of trying to shut down the Internet,” hinting at the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak blocking Internet access to whistleblower portal Sarawak Report and others being openly critical of Razak’s alleged involvement in unexplained payments surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

However, Fernandes was hit with a strong rebuff by Abdul Rahman Dahlan, chief spokesman of the ruling Barisan Nasional party, who at least described him as a “friend” but said:

“This is a government, Tony,” Dahlan said. “We are not just talking about dollars and cents. The government is responsible for the security of the nation. As a company you might not want to be interested in the security of the nation or the unity of the people. If you are a government, you care about the economy, security and unity. It goes hand in hand.”

Next ASEAN Secretary-General rotations (assuming unchanged regulations and no new member countries):

Vietnam 2013-2017

Brunei 2018-2022

Cambodia 2023-2027

Indonesia 2028-2032

Laos 2033-2037

Malaysia 2038-2042

Myanmar 2043-2047

Philippines 2048-2052

Singapore 2053-2057

Thailand 2058-2062

 

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