Thursday, March 24, 2016

The winner is: Status quo

The preliminary results of the second and final New Zealand flag referendum were released tonight, and the current colonial flag won handily: 56.6% against change and 43.2% for change (see graphic above; click to embiggen). The final result may vary a bit, but probably not very much. So, that’s that—there will be no change to New Zealand’s flag for many years—or probably decades—to come.

The whole debate was the worst I’ve ever seen on any public referendum, and ended up mostly being about how much people disliked John Key. It was comparable to a referendum on compulsory retirement savings held in the late 1990s that people used to express their disapproval of Winston Peters, his New Zealand First party, and even MMP itself. So, this is nothing new.

I doubt very much that we’ll ever get another chance to vote on a new flag, either because it’ll happen decades from now when I’m well gone, or because a future government, seeing how awful this process was, will just impose a new flag on us, Canadian style. Any future referendum would be every bit as fraught as this fight was, something no politician would gladly push for until sometime well in the future when and—only if—public opinion is solidly for change, whenever that may be.

Still, voters of New Zealand voted in this referendum in respectable numbers—roughly 2.1 million voters returned their ballots, and the result tonight is roughly 67.3% of registered voters—dramatically higher than the percentage that will vote in the local government elections later this year. So, in that sense, we must respect the result—which isn’t the same as agreeing with it, of course.

I’ll have more to say next week when the official results are announced, and I’m free to say what I really think. In the meantime, I’m disappointed, yes, and even more so that the anti-change crowd are still engaging in their insufferable condescension when, just maybe, a little high road behaviour might now be appropriate; if there was anything other than gloating and point-scoring, I didn’t see it.

Still, there’s one thing that all factions in this fight can agree on: We’re glad it's over. After all, there are so many more important things for the New Zealand public to focus on, like which woman will have to leave “The Bachelor NZ” next!

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