New Zealand votes to keep British Union flag in historic referendum

More than two million people voted in the ballot over whether to keep the British Union Jack on their flag

New Zealand has voted to keep its current flag by 57 percent to 43 percent in a nationwide referendum. 

More than 2m people voted in the ballot to decide whether to keep the British Union Jack on their flag or replace it with a silver fern. The results were announced on Thursday. 

The current flag has been the national symbol since 1902. It was up against a new design that was chosen by a panel of experts from more than 10,000 entries submitted by the public. 

Some of the rejected designs included a kiwi shooting laser beams out of their eyes and several cartoons of sheep.

The government released its longlist of 40 designs in August saying they hoped "New Zealanders will see themselves reflected in these flags' symbols, colour and stories". 

The final design - a blue and black flag with red stars and a silver fern - was chosen in a separate poll in December. 

Those advocating change argued the flag was a relic of the nation's colonial past and too similar to Australia's flag.

Those favoring the status quo said the new design was uninspiring or an attempt by Prime Minister John Key to create a legacy.

Opponents to change include the Returned and Services Association, which represents war veterans. It says New Zealand soldiers fought and died under the current flag and it should not be changed.

Organisers say that deciding the issue by popular vote represents a world first, with other countries changing flags by revolution, decree or legislation.

Voter turnout in the mail ballot topped 66 per cent by Wednesday, with 2.1 million votes cast from the country's 3.2 million registered voters.

Additional reporting by AP