- Publish Date
- Thursday, 24 March 2016, 8:38PM
New Zealand's flag will not change, a referendum has decided.
The existing national flag won 56.6 per cent of the vote, compared to 43.2 per cent for the silver fern flag.
The total number of votes received was 2,124,507 - a turnout of 67.3 per cent.
Of those, just 0.23 per cent were informal votes and 0.21 per cent were invalid votes.
The result is provisional. A final tally will be announced on Wednesday.
When the final result is confirmed, it will bring to a close a two-year process which culminated in the first-ever public vote by a country on its national flag.
Prime Minister John Key, an outspoken advocate for change, launched the flag referendum in a speech at Victoria University in March 2014.
Polls at the time showed New Zealanders supported a change to the century-old national flag.
New Zealand First aside, Parliament was also overwhelmingly in favour of change.
The main opposition throughout the process has come from military veterans. As World War I commemorations took place last year, the Returned and Services Association (RSA) urged the public not to dump the flag that young soldiers fought under.
In early 2015, a panel of prominent New Zealanders was appointed to oversee the process. Some questioned the decision to include no designers on the 12-person panel, which was made up of ex-sportspeople, academics, advertising gurus and businesspeople.
More than 10,000 flag designs were submitted by the public, which the panel cut down to 40 alternative flags.
The shortlist was dominated by silver ferns and koru, though many retained the Southern Cross.
At that stage, opposition to a change intensified. Critics questioned the $26 million cost of the referendum and the inadequate process. Some sections of the public lamented the absence of a forward-thinking design in the final contenders.
The longlist was trimmed to four flags, of which three featured silver ferns and one a koru. After a public campaign, a fifth contender, Red Peak, was added to the ballot.
In the first referendum in November and December, a black, white and blue silver fern flag was chosen as New Zealand's alternative national flag.
Turnout in the referendum was relatively low, at 48.78 per cent. About one in 10 votes was discarded, likely as a result of protest votes.
The silver fern flag, designed by Melbourne-based New Zealander Kyle Lockwood, was then flown in more than 250 sites across the country to help voters make up their minds.
As the second vote neared, the issue heated up.
The Change the Flag campaign ran advertisements featuring high-profile Kiwis, who urged voters to pick the silver fern design. Police investigated claims of vote-tampering.
The National Party was forced to deny its caucus was holding secret meetings to bolster support for a flag change. New Zealand First leader Winston Peters alleged that voting papers had been wrongly translated.
Through it all, Mr Key remained optimistic of a change, despite polls showing overwhelming support for the status quo.
In the lead-up to the second referendum, he said that the issue was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.
It is now unlikely to be revisited until New Zealand kicks off a debate on becoming a republic.