As Americans are aware, a nation’s flag can be an evolving symbol and now another country may undergo a change of its own, thanks to a nationwide vote. It was decided this week that New Zealand will be voting on a measure to give its flag a different, more independant look.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Wednesday that two votes will take place between now and 2016 to decide whether the country should re-design its flag. The first will take place late next year, in which voters will choose their favorite from a field of candidates, and in April 2016 the public will decide between keeping the current flag or adopting the most popular alternative. The government will appoint a “flag consideration panel” to consider opinions from the public and propose new designs.
Why the change? “Our flag is the most important symbol of our national identity and I believe that this is the right time for New Zealanders to consider changing the design to one that better reflects our status as a modern, independent nation,” Key said Wednesday.
The measure isn’t overwhelmingly endorsed by New Zealanders, however, and the topic is still a divisive issue following previous debates about it. On the “pro” side, a new flag would do away with the image of Britain’s Union Flag, seen as a symbol of the country’s colonial past, distinguish it from Australia’s similar flag, and could incorporate more representation for groups such as the indigenous Maori people.
Those in favor of keeping the current flag, including veterans, have an attachment to it and argue that it honors the memory of those who died in combat under the flag throughout its history. An opinion poll conducted in March reported 53 percent of respondents against the change and 41 percent in favor.
The current flag, which features a Union Flag and four stars in the Southern Cross formation on a blue field, was officially adopted in 1902. Governmental debates about a possible change have gone on since the early ‘70s, beginning with a proposal being voted down in 1973. One popular design that has been floated over the course of the debate is a silver fern on a black field, a quasi-national emblem adopted by New Zealand sports teams such as the All Blacks national rugby union team. Use of the fern dates back to the South African War (1899-1902), when it was used on military insignia.
Key, who has favored the fern option, said today that “retaining the current flag is a possible outcome of this process and the consideration of options will be done carefully, respectfully and with no presumption in favor of change.”