Voting opened in the South Pacific nation Friday as Prime Minister John Key's conservative government sought to change the New Zealand flag -- the current version of which features Britain's Union Jack and has fluttered for over 100 years.
Key has complained that the inclusion of the British flag is an anachronism and that the current version is not representative of New Zealand -- the fact that it looks very similar to Australia's may have something to do with that -- hence the push to change it. The postal ballot will be open for just under a month.
The five choices will be flown across the country during the period of the vote in a bid to familiarize people with the choices.
The winner from the shortlist will face off against the current flag in a poll next year.
Culled from a pool of over 10,000 submissions by an aptly named "Flag Consideration Panel," three of the final designs
feature a prominent fern leaf -- a national symbol that also recalls a flag popular among the country's rugby fans.
The fourth design features a black and white koru -- a Maori symbol reminiscent of curled fern frond, and the fifth, recently included in the final round of voting after a social media campaign
, is known as the Red Peak design and features red, black and blue triangles intersected by a white chevron.
But New Zealanders haven't shown a great deal of enthusiasm for change.
Online, users reacted overwhelmingly negatively, calling the designs "insipid," "bleak," and "a disgrace
." The three fern leaf designs were slammed for being too similar, while the koru design received a mocking nickname: "Hypnoflag."
Many Kiwis bemoaned the fact that no designers or artists were asked to sit on the flag panel, which included a handful of business elites and academics.
Others grumbled the ferns weren't "botanically correct" -- the flags depicted leaves arranged opposite one another, when the leaves actually alternate along the stem.
But perhaps the most anguish was expressed at the defeat of fan-favorite designs, including a crude Kiwi with a rainbow trail, a Kiwi bird shooting green lasers out of its eyes, and a stick drawing of a "deranged cat raking its garden."
The irreverence wasn't totally unexpected: A survey
conducted by the New Zealand Herald earlier this year found just a quarter of Kiwis were in favor of a new flag.
PM: Let's get a flag like Canada's
The existing flag -- with the Union Jack in the top left and four stars representing the Southern Cross constellation against a field of blue, was adopted in 1902 and has flown ever since.
But Key has pushed for a new flag, arguing it would create a stronger sense of national identity -- and rake in "billions" of dollars.
"If we put our flag on a sweatshirt, not a single person outside of New Zealand, well, very few people will recognize that," he told local radio station More FM
earlier this year.
"How much is it worth ultimately if we change the flag and people recognize and buy our products? It's got to be worth billions over time."
Key said that his country should take after Canada, which swapped its Union Jack for a maple leaf in 1965 and never looked back.
What do you think of the proposed designs for New Zealand's new flag? Let us know in the comments.