New Zealand begins final vote on whether to change its flag

Updated: 00:00 GMT, Jan 1, 1970 | Published: 08:23 GMT, Mar 3, 2016 |

Voting began in New Zealand on Thursday (March 3) in the second phase of a referendum to decide on the fate of the current national flag.

A preliminary result will be announced on March 24 which could see the introduction a new flag featuring a white fern on a black and blue background.

The official result will be on March 30th after all overseas votes are counted, Television New Zealand said.

The existing flag features the United Kingdom’s Union Jack in the corner and four red stars in a Southern Cross formation, indicating New Zealand’s location in the South Pacific.

Those seeking change say the flag is too closely tied to New Zealand’s history as a British colony and looks far too much like Australia’s flag, but people opposed to change say wars have been fought and New Zealanders have died under the current flag.

The new flag had won an earlier referendum against four other contenders following a public process where more than 10,000 designs including flags bearing the native kiwi bird and sheep, were whittled down to the shortlist by a Government-selected panel.

New Zealanders ranked the five in order of preference in the first phase of the referendum and the white fern on a black and blue background with four red starts came out on top.

Voter turnout was around 1.5 million people – or 49 percent of registered voters.

The cost of the referendum, about NZ$26 million ($17 million), has been criticised, while local media this week reported that Prime Minister John Key’s cabinet in the centre-right government was divided on changing the flag.