WELLINGTON - New Zealanders now have a fifth option to choose from when deciding whether to change their flag, after a popular campaign for a geometric design called “Red Peak” prompted lawmakers on Thursday to amend the rules to add it to the original four finalists.
New Zealand's Parliament voted overwhelming to add Red Peak to a November referendum, after about 50,000 people signed an online petition urging that the design be considered. The vote came after a couple of weeks of political posturing and maneuvering on the issue.
A government-appointed panel had earlier winnowed down more than 10,000 designs submitted by the public to four finalists. But many people felt those designs didn't offer enough choice, with three of them featuring silver ferns.
The flag that wins in November will be pitted head-to-head against the current flag in a second nationwide vote next March.
The Pacific nation of 4.5 million is considering changing its flag because many consider it outdated and too similar to Australia's flag. It features Britain's Union Jack in the top left corner, signaling a colonial past that some are eager to put behind them.
However, there are plenty of New Zealanders who want to keep their current flag. Many veterans fought under it and feel a special bond to it. Others don't like the new designs, or view the process as an expensive stunt initiated by Prime Minister John Key to distract from more pressing issues.
The two flag votes will cost taxpayers about 26 million New Zealand dollars ($16 million).
Key told reporters Thursday the government had tried to be pragmatic by adding Red Peak after people had expressed their feelings about it, albeit after the four finalists had already been chosen.
“I think it took a while for people to really engage in the process,” Key said.