Voting Begins In New Zealand Flag Referendum

Voting Begins In New Zealand Flag Referendum

New Zealanders have begun voting on whether to change their national flag, with opinion polls suggesting most want to maintain the status quo.

The current flag, which has served the country of 4.7 million people for 112 years, features the British Union Jack.

A challenger was selected late last year in the first round of voting - a blue, black and white flag.

The design, by architectural designer Kyle Lockwood, also features four red stars representing the Southern Cross, with a fern replacing the Union Jack.

It was chosen from more than 10,000 designs submitted by the public, including one featuring a kiwi shooting a green laser beam from its eye, rainbows, sheep and a stick drawing of a cat.

Some of those in favour of the change have said the current flag binds the country to its colonial past.

Even worse, in the eyes of some New Zealanders, is the fact that it is regularly confused with the Australian flag.

Organisers of the flag referendum say that changing the flag by popular vote would be a world first - with other countries having done it by revolution, decree or legislation.

Prime Minister John Key has been the main engine behind the project but the cost of the two referendums - more than $25m (£10.6m) - was criticised as a waste of money for an issue that few cared about, with the opposition Labour Party leader Andrew Little branding it as a "hugely expensive and highly unpopular vanity project".

The Returned and Services Association, which represents military veterans, says a change would dishonour the memory of those who fought for their country.

When a New Zealand current affairs television programme ran a survey on the issue last year, 84% said a new flag was not needed.

The referendum, held by postal ballot, will take place over the next three weeks, with preliminary results to be announced on 24 March.