Last week a referendum in New Zealand decisively rejected the Silver Fern flag. Prime Minister John Key spent about $17-million on a two year project to select a new design. But voters had the final word and decided to retain the familiar navy blue flag with the Union Jack and the stars of the Southern Cross. But, as we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute, there will be a new flag in the Pacific later this year, in Fiji.
Like New Zealand's flag, the national ensign of Fiji features the British Union Jack in the upper left hand corner. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama calls that a symbol of colonialism and insists it has to go. There's also a coat of arms that features a British lion holding a cocoa pod between its paws. "As an independent nation,” Bainimarama told parliament last month, "Fiji has the right to covet their own identity in the world."
He added, a new flag would be an emblem of a new Fiji. After taking power in a military coup in 2006, Bainimarama won election in 2014 under a new constitution that undermined the power of traditional chiefs. With one person one vote, it makes no distinction between indigenous peoples and Fijians of Indian origin. After Australia and New Zealand lead criticism of his military government, he reduced ties to the Commonwealth under a foreign policy called Face North, which pivots toward China and Russia. Three years ago, his government removed the image of Queen Elizabeth II from the Fijian dollar. A poll last year found that 53% of the population wanted to keep the current flag and 86% would like to vote on the matter, but Bainimarama refuses to consider a referendum.
He plans to settle on a new design July first - the only feature of the current flag that will stay he says, is the color Blue.