Several months and millions of dollars later, New Zealand votes to keep its flag

Thu Mar 24, 2016 6:38am EDT
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By Charlotte Greenfield

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand voted on Thursday to retain its national flag, which includes the Union Jack of its former colonial ruler, after a 16-month exercise that cost taxpayers NZ$26 million ($17.44 million).

Preliminary results of a referendum showed 56.6 percent of voting Kiwis wanted to keep the flag, which is completed by the Southern Cross constellation, with critics dubbing the alternative featuring a silver fern a "beach towel".

Supporters of change, including Prime Minister John Key, were hoping to get rid of the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom that still adorns the top left quarter of a handful of Commonwealth flags.

Those seeking change say the flag is too closely tied to New Zealand's colonial history and is too easily confused with the flag of its nearest neighbor, Australia. The only distinction between the two is the color and number of the Southern Cross stars.

Former rugby All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, a prominent supporter of the new flag, said he realized this before last year's World Cup final against Australia.

"The moment when I decided a new flag would be great for our country (was when) running out at Twickenham and seeing the two flags looking so similar," McCaw wrote on his Facebook page last month.

The alternative flag depicts a white fern on black and blue background with four red stars.

The design was meant to highlight the silver fern, widely considered the national symbol, but was likened by critics to both a towel and a corporate logo.   Continued...

Factory workers Garth Price (R) and Andrew Smith hang new designs of the national flag of New Zealand at a factory in Auckland, New Zealand, in this November 24, 2015 file photo.   REUTERS/Rafael Ben-Ari/Files