Expats urged to vote in New Zealand flag referendum

by Ray Clancy on March 14, 2016

Expats from New Zealand who are eligible to vote are being urged to take part in the referendum on the future of the nation’s flag, but they only have days left to do so.

The vote, which runs until 24 March allows New Zealanders to choose between the existing flag with its Union Jack and a new design that features the silver fern, the country’s national plant.

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said he wants everyone wherever they are in the world to take part in the referendum. The silver fern design received 670,790 votes in the first postal referendum held late last year. A total of 1,546,734 votes were cast in that first referendum, which is 48.78% of enrolled voters.

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Returned votes on the flag referendum have surged past the 1.2 million mark, as of last week. Updated figures from the Electoral Commission show close to 230,000 voting papers were received, bringing the total to 1,201,841. The final result will be revealed on March 30.

English believes that Kiwis should celebrate the fact New Zealand is the first country in the world to ask citizens for their views on the design of their national flag, through two postal referendums.

“To have a process which is legitimate, and for the outcome to endure, it is important to do it properly. Our current flag has served us for over a century, and it is possible that a new flag would serve us for another century or longer,” he pointed out.

“I’d encourage everyone to have an input in this decision, even for those who didn’t vote in the first referendum, everybody eligible to vote can do so in the second, conclusive referendum,” he added.

The referendum has resulted in a fierce debate across the country and beyond. The biggest disagreement has been about whether the flag should be changed at all and also discussion about the flag that was chosen as an alternative to the current one.

There has been criticism about the absence of designers on the panel which chose the alternative designs. Indeed, polling has consistently shown a majority of voters prefer the current flag to the alternative.

Various celebrities have entered the debate including Australian actor Hugh Jackman who says he is in favour of ditching the flag with the union jack and also saying that Australia should change her flag too.

Singer Madonna used the existing flag as a cape during her concert tour, creating speculation that she is a supporter of it while New Zealand Prime Minister John Key wore it draped around his shoulders at a golf tournament yet he is one of the main supporters of change.

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