New Zealanders on Thursday voted to retain their national flag, rejecting an alternative design featuring the native silver fern in place of the British Union Jack.
Preliminary results released by the Electoral Commission showed 56.6 per cent had voted in favour of the current flag, against 43.2 per cent who had voted for the new design.
The result was closer than expected, with the most recent poll showing only 35 per cent in favour of changing the flag.
The alternative blue, black and white fern-and-star design was selected by voters from a shortlist of five - out of some 10,000 initial entries - in the first stage of a postal referendum in December.
The push for a new flag was led by Prime Minister John Key who said the current flag represented a colonial era whose time had passed.
The process was a controversial one from the start, however, with many criticising the 26-million-New-Zealand-dollar cost (17 million US dollars) of the ballot.
After the result was announced, Key admitted to feeling a “little bit disappointed”. But he said the debate over choosing a new flag had prompted an important discussion about nationhood and “about what we stand for.”
More than two million New Zealanders voted in the postal ballot, 67 per cent of eligible voters.
The official final result will be announced by the Electoral Commission on March 30.