New Zealand votes in flag ref­er­en­dum Con­tro­ver­sial push to drop Union Jack from flag

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WELLING­TON: New Zealan­ders be­gan vot­ing yes­ter­day to se­lect a po­ten­tial new flag, part of a con­tro­ver­sial push for the South Pa­cific coun­try to drop Bri­tain’s Union Jack from its na­tional ban­ner.

Vot­ers are be­ing asked to choose be­tween five flag op­tions in a postal ref­er­en­dum that will con­tinue un­til De­cem­ber 11. The win­ning de­sign will then go head-to-head with the ex­ist­ing flag in a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum to be held in March next year.

Prime Min­is­ter John Key has made the flag re­form is­sue a pet project since his con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment won a third term late last year. He sees the cur­rent flag, which has the Union Jack in the cor­ner, as an anachro­nism, ar­gu­ing the coun­try needs a stan­dard “that screams New Zealand”. Key has also ex­pressed frus­tra­tion that the flag-which fea­tures four red stars rep­re­sent­ing the Southern Cross on a dark blue back­ground-is fre­quently con­fused with Aus­tralia’s. Elec­tions NZ said about three mil­lion ballot pa­pers were be­ing sent out in the na­tion of 4.5 mil­lion.

The cost of the ex­er­cise is an es­ti­mated NZ$25 mil­lion ($16.4 mil­lion), which crit­ics such as veter­ans group the Re­turned and Ser­vices’ As­so­ci­a­tion (RSA) call a waste of money. In a rare show of civil dis­obe­di­ence, the nor­mally con­ser­va­tive RSA has en­cour­aged Ki­wis to spoil their ballot rather than take part in the first ref­er­en­dum. “One way they can do that is by writ­ing ‘I sup­port the cur­rent flag’ on their ballot pa­per,” RSA pres­i­dent B.J. Clark said in a state­ment this week.

The RSA ar­gues that to change the flag dis­re­spects pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of sol­diers who have died fight­ing un­der the ban­ner. “When they have made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice for their coun­try, our flag has been draped over their cas­ket at mil­i­tary fu­ner­als,” it says on its web­site.

“It is to the flag that we turn to honor their courage, com­mit­ment and sac­ri­fice.”

Once-in-a-life­time chance Four of the five de­signs in the first ref­er­en­dum fea­ture the fern, New Zealand’s un­of­fi­cial na­tional em­blem. The fifth, dubbed “Red Peak”, con­sists of red, black and blue tri­an­gles with a white chevron. It was a late ad­di­tion to the lineup af­ter a so­cial me­dia cam­paign for its in­clu­sion. An opin­ion poll last month pre­dicted a de­sign fea­tur­ing a white fern on a red and blue back­ground would win the first ref­er­en­dum. But sep­a­rate polling sug­gests the ex­ist­ing flag is likely to de­ci­sively win the sec­ond ref­er­en­dum in March with about 65 per­cent of the vote. — AFP

CANAKKALE: In this file pic­ture taken on April 24, 2014, peo­ple are seen be­hind a New Zealand flag as they wait for the dawn cer­e­mony in the An­zac cove dur­ing the cer­e­mony cel­e­brat­ing the 99th an­niver­sary of the An­zac Day in Canakkale. — AFP

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