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Union Jack or silver fern? New Zealand begins final vote on flag's fate

Voters in New Zealand are being faced with a choice over their nation's flag: should they keep the existing one, or implement a new design?

The current flag – which was adopted in 1902 – features the British Union Jack and represents New Zealand's history as a British colony. It also features the Southern Cross, "emphasizing our location in the South Pacific Ocean," a website on the flag referendum read.

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What's in a flag?

The new flag, pictured right above, features the color black which has "become recognized as a national color" and a silver fern. The website says the fern "has been part of our history and identity for many years and is an internationally recognized symbol of New Zealand."

The new design is the final remaining option after the field of submitted flags was narrowed to five and then one in public polling.

Now, the final remaining design is facing off against the traditional flag.

Neuseeland Bildkombo Vorschläge neue Nationalflagge

The five finalists for the alternate flag

Many New Zealanders believe it is time to shed the direct reference to its colonial past in the flag by getting rid of the Union Jack. Others, however, argue that the link to Britain is something to be proud of.

An additional argument for the redesign is to eliminate confusion with Australia's flag, which is nearly identical save for differing coloring on the stars of the Southern Cross and an additional star below the Union Jack.

Australien Nationalflagge

New Zealand's flag is often mistaken for the Australian flag (pictured here)

Mail-in balloting is scheduled to last three weeks, with preliminary results expected on March 24. Opinion polls indicate a tendency among voters to want to keep the existing flag. This includes many veterans.

Prime Minister John Key supports the new flag and has been behind the effort to put the decision to a vote. He has faced criticism for the cost of the referendum, which will cost voters NZ$26 million ($17.5 million, 15.9 million euros) and is seen by some as Key's vanity project.

mz/kms (dpa, AP)

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