WELLINGTON • New Zealanders have chosen a silver fern on a black-and-blue background as their preferred option if the country decides to dump Britain's Union Jack from its national flag.
In a NZ$26 million (S$24.6 million) referendum launched a year ago by Prime Minister John Key, the design beat four other contenders whittled down from more than 10,000 entries.
"Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue)", the design by architect Kyle Lockwood, will go head-to-head with the existing flag in a second referendum in March, according to preliminary results announced by the New Zealand Election Commission yesterday.
Online users had described the final designs - four were stylisations of the country's native fern, while the fifth, dubbed "Red Peak", featured red, blue and black triangles around a white chevron - as "insipid", "bleak" and "a disgrace".
WASTE OF MONEY
I think it's an absolute waste of taxpayers' money and I can't see any benefit to it.
MS SUE PARROTT, a Wellington resident
Many New Zealanders were upset that no designers or artists were asked to sit on the flag panel, which included a handful of business elites and academics, but the often heated months-long debate has had its lighter moments.
One of the most popular designs with online users had been a flag featuring a kiwi bird shooting green lasers from its eyes.
Another had a sheep alongside a cone of ice cream, with designer Jesse Gibbs saying the juxtaposition of the two New Zealand favourites was "Kiwi as bro".
Amid an undercurrent of republicanism, those seeking change say the current flag adopted in 1902 is too closely tied to New Zealand's history as a British colony and looks too much like Australia's flag. But many of the 1.5 million people - or 48 per cent of voters - who turned out for the referendum resented the process and opposed change, saying wars had been fought and New Zealanders had died under the current flag.
"I think it's an absolute waste of taxpayers' money and I can't see any benefit to it," said Wellington resident Sue Parrott. "I have no problem with the current flag, it's part of our heritage."
Teacher Emily Osborn, who said she had chosen a flag featuring a black and white koru, or unfurling fern frond, aimed to thwart the referendum outcome with her choice.
"I did vote, but I don't agree that we need to change the current flag. I didn't pick it because I liked it. I chose it because I thought it would be the one that wouldn't stand a chance against our current flag," she said.
Mr Key argues that a silver fern flag will boost New Zealand's global profile and will be "worth billions" to the nation of 4.5 million in the long term.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, GUARDIAN