New Zealand to vote on flag change: All you need to know about the changing of national flags

The New Zealand flag flutters outside Parliament buildings in Wellington in Wellington on Oct 29, 2014. New Zealand will be holding a vote on changing its national flag. -- PHOTO: AFP
The New Zealand flag flutters outside Parliament buildings in Wellington in Wellington on Oct 29, 2014. New Zealand will be holding a vote on changing its national flag. -- PHOTO: AFP

New Zealand will be holding a vote on changing its national flag.

A range of designs will first be selected by a committee, and the public will vote next year on their preferred design. A second referendum will be held in 2016, where voters will choose between the preferred new design and the existing one.

The Straits Times looks at the reasons behind this proposed change, other nations which had similar plans, and countries that have gone ahead with the change.

1. Why does New Zealand want to change its existing flag?

The current flag was first used in 1869 and formally adopted in 1902. It has four stars representing the Southern Cross constellation against a dark blue background. In the top left quarter of the flag is the Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister John Key has proposed a new design featuring a silver fern against a black background, saying this would be more recognisably Kiwi after more than a century with the existing banner.

The silver-and-black colour combination is currently used by many New Zealand sports teams, such as the All Blacks national rugby team.

2. Which other countries have wanted to change flags?

The Australian flag, which features a Union Jack, a Southern Cross and The Commonwealth Star, was the winning entry in a competition more than a century ago. It remains unchanged since it was first raised in 1901.

However, there have been periodic calls to change it. Those who want it replaced want the Union Jack out of it, because they argue that it does not show Australia's independent status.

They also say that the flag's colours - red, white and blue - do not represent Australia in any way, and make the flag look similar to that of other countries.

A law was enacted in 1998 to ensure that the flag can be changed only if the Australian electorate approves.

Those who argue for the beauty of the flag say it embodies Australia's national unity, Aboriginal legends, history and geography. There are organisations advocating for both sides of the debate, and so far, the public has not shown support for changing the flag.

3. Who has gone ahead with the change?

Canada: The famous leaf on the Canadian flag replaced the 1957 version which featured a Union Jack.

Myanmar: A new flag, with a central star set against a yellow, green and red background, was adopted in 2010. The colours represent peace, solidarity and valour. The previous blue and red flag was adopted in 1974.

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Malawi: Malawi's original flag, which featured a red rising sun, was replaced with a white full sun in 2010 to reflect development in the country. But the new design lasted only two years, and it was back to square one.

Libya: Until 2011, Libya was the only country with a flag in a single colour, green. With the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime, it was changed to a red, black and green one, featuring a white crescent and star.

Sources: Agence France-Presse, http://www.ausflag.com.au, https://catflag.wordpress.com, http://flagsarenotlanguages.com, http://www.australianflag.org.au, http://www.australianflag.net.au

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