New Zealanders voted convincingly against a proposal to ditch Britain's Union Jack from the national flag and adopt a silver fern design, official referendum results showed on Thursday.
The country’s electoral commission said 56.61 per cent of voters backed the existing flag, while 43.16 favoured a change. The results are preliminary but the size of the margin means they are unlikely to change when the final tally is released next Wednesday. The outcome will likely be viewed as a defeat for Prime Minister John Key, the main advocate for change, who described the existing banner as a colonial relic from the days of British rule.
“New Zealand has voted to retain our current flag. I encourage all NZers to use it, embrace it and, more importantly, be proud of it,” he tweeted.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said some would be disappointed with the outcome but the government had staged a robust democratic process that had given people a choice.
The referendum was the culmination of an often-heated 18-month debate which touched on issues of national identity in the South Pacific nation of 4.5 million people. On one side of the ballot was the existing flag. On the other was the proposed alternative. Created by designer Kyle Lockwood, it beat four other proposed flags in a preliminary referendum last December.