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New Zealand Rejects New Flag After $17M Design Contest, Vote

After a year-long, $17.4 million public contest to design and select a new national flag, New Zealand voted Thursday to keep its current emblem.

More than two million people took part in a referendum to choose between a new symbol, featuring a silver fern, and the existing one based on the British union flag.

Image: The current New Zealand flag flutters outside the Te Papa museum in Wellington.
New Zealand's flag flutters outside the Te Papa museum in Wellington. Marty Melville / AFP - Getty Images

More than 1.2 million people — 56.6 per cent of those who voted — preferred the status quo, according to preliminary results published at 7 p.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).

Just over 915,0000 — or 43.1 per cent — voted for a new blue, black and silver fern motif associated with the country's successful All Blacks rugby team.

The new option, created by New Zealander Kyle Lockwood, was itself selected in a public vote in 2015 from 13,000 other designs submitted by members of the public.

A definitive result, taking into account late postal ballots, will be announced Wednesday, the country's Electoral Commission said.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who supported a change, said he was disappointed but would support voters' choice.

Image: Four designs in final round of flag contest
The shortlist of designs for a new flag, chosen by a design committee from 13,000 submissions. Voters chose the fourth option — in blue/black — in a 2015 referendum but have now voted to keep their current flag. NZ Flag Consideration Panel / NZ Flag Consideration Panel via EPA

"You can't shy away from a debate or a discussion about nationhood," he told reporters, according to TVNZ.

The current flag dates from New Zealand's days as a British colony; the country remains a part of the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth as its nominal head of state.

The Change the NZ Flag campaign group tweeted: "Thank you New Zealand. We're proud to have had this opportunity and we're even prouder to be Kiwi."