New Zealanders will decide whether to retain the nation’s current flag or choose a new one that does away with the Union Jack, as options for a new flag are narrowed down to one after an initial vote.
In preliminary results from a postal referendum released Friday, New Zealanders have chosen a design that incorporates the current flag’s four red stars on a blue background, but replaces the Union Jack with a white fern frond, according to New Zealand’s Electoral Commission.
The stars, arranged in a Southern Cross formation, indicate New Zealand’s location in the South Pacific, while the frond has been worn by New Zealanders, including its sports teams, for generations.
Over the past few weeks, voters were asked to rank their preferred flag option from five designs, whittled down from nearly 10,300 entries submitted by the public which included designs bearing animals such as the kiwi bird and sheep.
In March 2016, New Zealanders will choose in a second referendum between the new flag, designed by Kyle Lockwood, and staying with the current flag.
48.16% of registered voters, or about 1.5 million people, cast their vote in the referendum, according to the Electoral Commission.
Changing the national flag is an emotive issue in New Zealand, and opinion among the country’s 4.5 million inhabitants is deeply divided. People supporting the status quo argue that generations of New Zealanders have died under the present flag in war. Proponents of a change say the current flag, with the Union Jack harking back to the island’s time as a British colony, fails to recognize the indigenous Maori people, and lacks the simplicity and brand power of national flags such as The Star-Spangled Banner.
Write to Lucy Craymer at Lucy.Craymer@wsj.com