WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealanders will soon get to vote on whether to change their national flag, which many view as a relic from a colonial past.
Prime Minister John Key on Tuesday announced plans to hold a referendum within three years. His political opponents said they would follow through with those plans even if they oust Key in this year's national elections.
The current flag depicts the Southern Cross star constellation and includes Britain's Union Jack in the top left corner. Many complain it is too similar to Australia's flag and doesn't reflect New Zealand's independence from former colonizer Britain.
But many who have served in the military oppose a change. And among those advocating a change, there's plenty of debate about a replacement.
Key said he favors a silver fern set against a black background, an image that's popular among sports teams. Some say that would equate the country too much with its sporting heroes and would be too reminiscent of a pirate ensign. Some argue the country's indigenous Maori should be represented in any new flag.
In a speech Tuesday, Key said the flag represents a past era.
"The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom," he said.
He said Canada's 1965 decision to embrace a distinctive maple leaf design was a good example, and he couldn't imagine Canadians now wanting to go back to their old Union Jack flag.
"We should be represented by a flag that is distinctly New Zealand's," said Key, adding it would not signify an end to the South Pacific nation's constitutional ties to the British monarchy or participation in the Commonwealth group of countries.
Don McIver, president of the Returned and Services Association (RSA), said he's proud of a flag that represents more than 100 years of tradition.
"The view of the RSA is there is no need to change the flag," he said. "Thirty-two thousand New Zealanders have given their lives under the flag and many more thousands have served under it in a combat environment."
The Republican Movement of New Zealand, which advocates an end to recognizing the British monarch as New Zealand's head of state, remains indifferent.
"We realize there is momentum to change the flag, and we are not against it," said the movement's chairman, who goes by the single name Savage. "But the substance is changing the head of state. It's symbolic only to change the flag."
Yet for many, a new flag would represent another small step by New Zealand toward disentangling itself from its British past. In 2004, for instance, the country established a Supreme Court to replace Britain's Privy Council as the final court of appeal.
Recent opinion polls have yielded conflicting indications about whether a majority favor a change.
Victor Gizzi, the national sales manager at flag manufacturer Flagmakers, said "older people tend to want the status quo," while younger people feel differently.