WELLINGTON , New Zealand, Sept. 1 (UPI) — The New Zealand government unveiled four finalists Tuesday in its design contest to replace the national flag it has used since 1869.
The finalists, chosen from 10,000 entries, offer three variations on the silver fern, a native plant emblematic of the country, as well as a Maori symbol called a koru, based on the same plant. Voters will choose a new flag in a referendum, later this year, although a recent poll by a New Zealand newspaper suggested 53 percent of respondents favored keeping the old flag.
Another referendum between the chosen flag and the current flag is scheduled for March 2016.
A new flag would replace one depicting the constellation Crux Ausralis, part of the Southern Cross, as well as the British flag referred to as the Union Jack. The so-called “1902 flag,” in reference to its official date of adoption though it was commonly in use earlier, is regarded by some to be associated with New Zealand’s colonial origins. The country officially announced its independence from Britain in 1947.
While New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has enthusiastically favored a change in the flag, the issue has not charged the population the same way.
Tracy Watkins, political editor of the Fairfax Media New Zealand newspaper chain, commented, “So far the debate hasn’t stirred enough interest to fill up a county hall.”