Though there’s a delightful array of global elections coming in 2016, the most important will most certainly not be New Zealand’s final referendum on changing its flag.
Nevertheless, it might well be the most fun.
For the past month, New Zealand’s voters have been asked to choose from among five options (narrowed down from a larger finalist field of 40 designs) in a postal-based referendum that began on November 20 and ended on December 11. Less than 50% of eligible voters took part in the voting.
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The winner, by a very narrow margin, was a one of three designs to feature the silver fern, a symbol that, increasingly since the end of the 19th century, has become associated with New Zealand — on its coins and its coat of arms, on the logo of its national football team. The silver fern, cyathea dealbata, is a species endemic to New Zealand.
The ubiquity of the silver fern in three of the original four finalists drew so much criticism from anti-fern proponents that the flag panel actually added a fifth design, a stylized ‘red peak’ to the list of choices (though like the other two designs, it polled far behind in single digits).
The winning design (with a black and blue background) defeated a similar design (with a red and blue background) that was, in fact, designed by the same artist, Kyle Lockwood:
When the other three options were eliminated, the black/blue variant took 50.58% of the vote to 49.42% for the alternative design.
Voters will endure yet another round of voting between March 3 and March 24 to choose between the new ‘silver fern’ finalist and the current flag, a blue flag that features the four-star ‘Southern Cross’ constellation with the British ‘Union Jack’ in the upper-left quadrant:
For years, New Zealanders have complained that the flag, alternatively, perpetuates its status as a former colony, fails to recognize the indigenous Maori community and, above all, too closely resembles Australia’s flag:
Critics of the flag debate chide prime minister John Key for the expense involved with the referendum and what they find to be the unnecessary complexity of the process.