The announcement that outgoing Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller will lead a revamp of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has caused a political storm.
Several local critics of the move called on the Malaysian government to scrap his appointment as he is a foreigner.
Mahathir bin Mohamad, who was prime minister of Malaysia for 22 years until 2003, criticised the appointment, which was announced on Friday by Khazanah Nasional, the Malyasian sovereign wealth fund that is majority owner of the struggling airline.
Job for a Malaysian
According to local reports, Mr Mahatir maintains the job should have gone to a Malaysian. One account said he “sarcastically” declared on Saturday that Malaysians must be “too stupid” to run their own airline.
On Monday, he again hinted that the job should not go to the German, who joined Aer Lingus in 2009. “I am worried, if we do not believe in ourselves, one day when we need a prime minister we can get a white man because he is ‘smarter’ than us,” he is reported to have said.
‘Halt appointment’ call
Lim Kit Siang, the leader of the Democratic Action Party, called on the government to halt Mr Mueller’s appointment and instead ask a parliamentary committee to find a local chief executive for MAS.
"Why have we been increasingly reduced to a near basket case, as to have to appoint an orang putih [white man] to save our national airline? Is there not a single soul in Malaysia who could be appointed?" Mr Lim reportedly said.
Khazanah wants Mr Mueller to start on March 1st, even though he is contracted to stay with Aer Lingus until the start of May. Aer Lingus declined to comment when asked if Mr Mueller had sought an early exit.
He will lead a €1.4 billion overhaul of MAS, which is stricken after two losing two planes this year. One went missing in March while en route to China while another was shot down over Ukraine in July.
Mr Mueller, who was unavailable for comment on the local opposition to his appointment, intends to remain as chairman of An Post, even though he will be based 10,000 kilometres from Ireland.