Though it’s perhaps not the most pressing policy issue for New Zealand, the contest to determine whether to replace New Zealand’s flag has attracted an international following. A special commission, choosing from among 40 longlisted finalists, narrowed the selection to just four.
New Zealand’s voters, between November 20 and December 11, will rank the four finalists. Later in 2016, voters will choose between the current flag and the winner of this winter’s vote to determine the best challenger. For a country as wealthy as New Zealand, it’s a sign of the country’s prosperity that it can spend $25.7 million on a protracted debate about whether to change its national flag.
Many citizens, however, seem unimpressed by the debate or even annoyed with prime minister John Key for pushing the choice. Key, the leader of the conservative National Party, and reelected in September 2014 to a third term, actually argues that changing New Zealand’s flag, which currently features the British Union Jack and the ‘southern cross’ constellation (just like Australia’s, which has caused some confusion over the years) would boost New Zealand’s international recognition, especially if the flag incorporates the silver fern, which has in recent decades become the country’s national symbol.
Critics also argue that the country has more important matters at hand — from the ongoing efforts to rebuild Christchurch, New Zealand’s second city, after a devastating 2011 earthquake to the issues of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
Nevertheless, the fight over a new flag has entered a new crucial phase — one in which many Kiwis believe that none of the panel’s finalists are particularly great. Three of the finalists incorporate the silver fern, and two of them also retain New Zealand’s red southern cross. The fourth and final option incorporates a koru, a spiral shape based on a coiled silver fern that is an important shape in the culture of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori.