- New Zealanders will vote in a referendum on whether to adopt a new flag
- The Silver Fern (black, white and blue) won in preliminary rounds and will go up against the existing flag
(CNN)And then there were two.
New Zealanders have chosen the candidate to go up against their current standard in a national referendum next year after an expensive and at times acrimonious preliminary voting campaign.
Silver Fern (black, white and blue) won out over four other shortlisted contenders to go up against the current version -- which features a British ensign and has been criticized for being too similar to the flag of Australia -- that has flown over the island nation for more than 100 years.
The second most preferred design was the red, white and blue Silver Fern, followed by Red Peak -- which was added to the shortlist after an online petition gathered 50,000 signatures. The black and white Silver Fern came fourth, and the koru came last.
The preliminary result was announced by the New Zealand Election Commission on Friday, with 1,527,042 votes cast. Total post votes have yet to be counted and a final result will be announced on Tuesday, December 15.
The Silver Fern (black, white and blue), designed by Kyle Lockwood, won in the fourth round of voting, with 50.53% of the vote. The winning design got 552,827 first-preference votes.
The next most preferred design, Lockwood's red, white and blue Silver Fern, polled at 49.47%.
Conservative Prime Minister John Key's government has lobbied hard for the change, despite lackluster enthusiasm from the public and anger over the cost and timing of the votes.
The five shortlisted new flags were flown around the country in order to familiarize people with them. Around 48% of eligible voters have taken part in the referendum, according to the New Zealand Election Commission.
Voters were asked "If the New Zealand flag changes, which flag would you prefer?" The second referendum, planned for March, will then offer a choice between the existing standard and the Silver Fern.
Key has claimed that an iconic New Zealand flag could be worth "billions" in tourism revenue, but his desire for change has not been widely shared.
Online, users reacted overwhelmingly negatively, calling the shortlisted 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.
A survey conducted by the New Zealand Herald earlier this year found that just a quarter of Kiwis were in favor of changing the flag.