New Zealand votes on changing its flag to remove Union Flag
New Zealanders began voting today on whether to remove the Union Flag from their country's flag - and replace it with a design featuring a native silver fern.
The postal ballot will run for the next three weeks, with preliminary results to be announced on March 24.
Opinion polls indicate the nation of 4.7 million people will opt to stick with its current flag, although proponents of the new design say they have momentum on their side and that more and more people are embracing a change.
Those favouring change, including PM John Key, say the current flag is too similar to Australia's and references a colonial past that it is time to leave behind.
Those opposed to change say the new design is uninspiring or is an attempt by Prime Minister Key to create a legacy.
Organisers say deciding the issue by popular vote represents a world first, and that other countries have changed flags by revolution, decree or legislation.
People submitted more than 10,000 designs, including bizarre ones like a kiwi bird shooting a green laser beam from its eye and a stick drawing of a deranged cat.
The designs were narrowed down to a final five and in December, 1.5 million people voted for the fern design by architect Kyle Lockwood to become the official challenger.
Like the current flag, it features four red stars representing the Southern Cross, but replaces the Union Jack with a fern and changes the background colours.
Mr Key told Radio New Zealand this week that people had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote for a new flag.
"If they don't vote for change now, they'll never get another chance until we become a republic," he said, adding he could not see that happening within his lifetime because of the popularity of the young British royals.