Results show flag referendum a 'major failure' - Opposition
New Zealand has chosen to retain the current flag, and already the political attacks have begun, with Opposition parties criticising the process and the Prime Minister.
The preliminary results came out just before 8:30pm tonight, with 56.6 percent voting in favour of keeping the current flag.
But it was relatively close, with the Kyle Lockwood-designed alternative receiving 43.2 percent of the vote.
In all, voter turnout was 67.3 percent with 2,124,507 valid and invalid votes cast.
Despite apparent hostility toward the process and the referendums, there were only 4554 invalid votes cast.
Just minutes after the result, the Green Party called the referendums a "major failure" for John Key "who politicised the process" and cost the country the opportunity for real change.
"Lots of New Zealanders support a change of flag but voted for the current one because the Prime Minister's interference ensured they weren't given a proper choice," co-leader Metiria Turei says.
"John Key alienated people by politicising the process and attacking those who didn't like his choice of flag."
Following the announcement, Mr Key sent a tweet telling people to embrace the flag and be proud of it.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English tonight stood by the process, calling it "robust" and democratic which opened up a conversation about who New Zealanders are on the world stage.
"I acknowledge there will be those who are disappointed with the outcome, but the majority of New Zealanders have spoken and we should all embrace that decision," he says.
"This process has engaged Kiwis in their homes, in their schools and in their workplaces, here in New Zealand, and right around the world -- it is something we've all had a point of view on."
Labour leader Andrew Little called the referendums a project with "divided the country and became a personal crusade".
"The flag referendum should have united New Zealand but the Prime Minister made it divisive. He has split the country and achieved nothing."
Mr Little claims Mr Key had a hand in many parts of the process aside from his prominent and persistent push for change, attending flag campaign fundraisers and having National MPs heavily involved in campaigning.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says "the people have spoken, and let's respect and honour and defend this flag as one people".
"I think they kept the flag because a lot of people felt the change didn't honour our history, a lot of people thought it was a very expensive waste of money and last of all I think the political interference and the meddling and the manipulation saw even National party supporters being opposed to it," he says.
Mr Peters says those under 29 were the highest category that voted in the flag referendum and backed the existing flag.
However, he denies that the numbers were close because of the amount of money spent on Kyle Lockwood's design, even noting it was the first option to appear on the enrolment form.
"It wasn't close given all the money spent on that one option, and the manipulation of that option. It wasn't close; this was a rout for the Prime Minister."
Lewis Holden has been a pro-change campaign leader for 10 years. Tonight, he was at a gathering in central Auckland "cautiously optimistic" for a flag change.
However, when the final results came out, the Deputy Commissioner for Auckland at the State Services Commission still managed some positivity.
"Obviously this is not the result we were after, but I'm actually quite ecstatic because we've almost got a million New Zealanders who said that they wanted change," he says.
"I think actually when you look at this result, what it tells you is that we won this debate and that New Zealanders actually said, 'Maybe not now, but in the future we will actually change our flag'.
"I have to say that is actually really heartening for me who is someone who has been campaigning this for over 10 years."