Voters in New Zealand have soundly rejected a proposed new flag that would replace the British Union Jack in the current flag's upper left corner with a silver fern.
Preliminary results released by the nation's electoral commission Thursday showed just over 56 percent of those participating in the postal-only referendum want to keep the current 114-year-old flag, compared to 43 percent who voted for the new design.
The referendum was the result of an 18-month debate that cost taxpayers $17 million. Supporters of the proposed new flag, led by Prime Minister John Key, said the current version is a relic of New Zealand's colonial past, and too closely resembles that of neighboring Australia.
But others mocked the alternative flag as nothing better than a beach towel, and said the referendum was a legacy-building exercise for Prime Minister Key, who enjoys high approval ratings after eight years in office.
FILE - New Zealand Prime Minister John Key takes photo of the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, London, Oct. 31, 2015. Comments made by Key caused an uproar in parliament.
The alternative flag was among more than 10,000 potential designs submitted when the process began in 2014, and was picked as the final choice in an earlier referendum. The proposed replacement flag maintained the circular four-star pattern that represents the Southern Cross constellation seen on the current flag.