New Zealand has confirmed its preferred alternative flag after the first referendum resulted in a tight race between two ferns. Followed closely by vexillology enthusiasts around the world, the referendum could be a stepping stone towards a historical event.
A second referendum will be held between March 3 and 24, to decide whether to adopt the new flag or keep the current one. The results of this referendum will be binding.
The total votes received were 1,546,734, which included 149,747 informal votes (9.7 per cent) and 3372 invalid votes (0.22 per cent). Voter turnout was 48.78 per cent.
New Zealand is in the closing stages of replacing its colonial-era flag with something a little more modern. There were five options to choose from. Four shortlisted designs were announced by the Flag Consideration Panel in September.
A fifth design was added to the shortlist following public pressure. Red Peak by Aaron Dustin, finished third with only 122,152 first-preference votes.
Earlier this year, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced a referendum and called for designs. More than 10,000, including flags bearing the native kiwi bird and sheep.
The new design, officially known as Silver Fern, is the brainchild of Melbourne-based architect Kyle Lockwood, who incorporated the black-and-white fern that New Zealand is already famous for onto the same background, with the same stars, keeping most of features of the current flag. The colonial relic with a British ensign has flown over the country for more than 100 years. Though he tried to discard it in favor of something new that reflects New Zealand, critics say it is too similar to the Australian flag. Once part of the British Empire, New Zealand is now independent, although Queen Elizabeth II remains head of state.
The winning flag received fewer first-preference votes than Red, White, and Blue, but ended up with a higher share of the total through preferential voting, both designed by Lockwood. According to a report in the Independent, the black and blue flag just edged his red and darker blue flag by 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent in a runoff vote.
According to the designer of the new flag, Kyle Lockwood, the multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s peaceful, multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards representing one people growing onward into the future, and the bright blue represents the clear atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, over which all New Zealanders, or their ancestors, crossed to get there.
John Key supported Lockwood’s blue design. Spearheading the flag debate as a priority for his third term, he said the following in an interview on Newstalk ZB.
“The reason why I support the change of a flag is simply because we will wear it, use it and promote it more. It’s therefore all about national pride and recognition of our country and showing the world how great we think New Zealand is… and I don’t think we do that very much with our current flag.”
The flag selection has been criticized for its cost (a whopping US$17.5 million), the timing aimed at distracting people from the current issues and the selection of candidates.
Many people in New Zealand still prefer the old flag for various reasons, ranging from being nostalgic to nationalistic.
The Returned and Services’ Association (RSA) wrote the following on its website.
“When they have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, our flag has been draped over their casket at military funerals.”
According to a report in the Guardian, John Key warned voters that the ballot is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“If we don’t change by the middle of March next year, we’re not changing for 50 or 100 years. Those who say we’ll come back and revisit the process are dreaming.”