Kiwis choose new flag contender, turnout below 50%

New Zealand held its first referendum to select a design for a possible new flag - and it looks like Kyle Lockwood’s "Silver Fern" design is the winner.

Preliminary results show it won by less than one percentage point, so election officials are waiting for late votes before calling it for sure. The runner-up was also submitted by Lockwood and features red instead of black.

The final result will be announced on Tuesday. Voters will then decide in March if they want to replace their current flag.

Kiwis voted on five designs during this referendum, but less than half the voting population turned out.

Earlier this year, journalist Duncan Garner called the NZ$26 million (US$17.5 million) process a waste of money that could have been used to feed hungry children.

“I'd much prefer a genuine debate about whether we cut ties with Mother England because I support us becoming a republic, with our own constitution,” Garner said in his commentary in the Dominion Post. “But that won't happen because this current crop of political leaders, Prime Minister John Key included, are too scared to get into anything that might offend and upset the Queen.”

New Zealand’s potential flag change came about thanks to a journalist asking the PM if he still had an interest in changing the current flag. Key said he would.

Two months later in March 2014, he gave a speech calling for a flag change.

"We want a design that says 'New Zealand’," he said. "Whether it's stitched on a Kiwi traveller's backpack outside a bar in Croatia, on a flagpole outside the United Nations, or standing in a Wellington southerly [steady wind] on top of the Beehive [the executive wing of the parliament buildings] every working day."

The new flag submissions were open to the public and more than 10,000 designs were submitted.

Lockwood first designed alternative New Zealand flags as he passed time in university lectures 15 years ago. He was the only designer to have two designs in the final five.

If New Zealanders decide to change the flag in the March ballot, they will follow other countries like Canada and South Africa in changing their flag.

Canada made the change in 1964, getting rid of the Union Jack in favor of the iconic maple leaf.

A November 3 News poll showed 65 percent of New Zealanders want to keep the current flag. 28 percent want to change, and the rest don't know or don't care.