New Zealanders have chosen a new flag design that will be put up as a challenger to their current flag in a March vote.
The Electoral Commission announced on Tuesday that the Silver Fern Flag, which was chosen via a postal ballot, would be the one to move forward to the second referendum as the preferred alternative.
The flag that receives the most votes in the final referendum in March 2016 will become New Zealand’s flag.
The current design’s Union Jack is a legacy of New Zealand’s history as a British colony.
The question of whether to change a national symbol that has endured for more than a century has raised plenty of passion and scepticism in this nation of 4.6 million.
People submitted more than 10,000 flag designs, including bizarre ones such as a kiwi, the native bird, shooting a green laser beam from its eye.
In the end it came down to two flags by Kyle Lockwood that featured the same design of a silver fern and four red stars, but with different background colours.
Lockwood’s black and blue flag just edged his red and darker blue one 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent in a run-off vote. Even the designer found it a tough choice.
“I agonised over the two on my voting form,” said Lockwood. “For a couple of weeks, I’d walk past it and think ‘Which one? I like them both equally.'”
Lockwood, 38, an architectural designer who was born in the capital Wellington and now lives in Australia, said he did not want to say to which one he gave his top vote.
His winning design has similarities to the current flag but ditches the British Union Jack, or Union Flag, in favour of the fern, which has become a national symbol and is worn by many sports teams, including the beloved All Blacks rugby team.
‘Forging a legacy’
Those who want to change the current flag say it is too similar to Australia’s flag and references a colonial past that it’s time to leave behind.
But opinion polls taken before Tuesday’s result indicated that a majority favoured keeping the existing flag.
Many do not see the need for change or view the process as an expensive stunt by Prime Minister John Key, who opponents say is trying to forge a legacy or distract from other issues.
The RSA, which represents war veterans, is opposed to the change, saying soldiers pledged allegiance to the current flag.
“Where were the people marching down the street saying ‘Change the flag’?” said BJ Clark, the RSA national president. “If a majority had wanted it, then maybe we could understand it.”
Those favouring Lockwood’s design hope that opinions will change before March as the debate focuses in on the two flags.
Clark said people should vote with their heart and accept the result.
“The wonderful thing is that those people who served and fought for the country are able to have their opinion,” he said.