John Key: vote against Silver Fern flag in referendum won't damage my legacy
Prime Minister John Key says a vote in favour of the current flag - and against his favoured Silver Fern design - will not tarnish his legacy.
With just over 24 hours until the outcome of the final vote is known, the current flag is expected by most to defeat Kyle Lockwood's alternative Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue) design.
Critics of the flag referendum have suggested that Key wanted a change to secure his legacy, and that a vote in favour of the current flag would reflect unfavourably on him.
However, Key said he had "actually never [seen] it as part of my legacy, one way or the other".
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"If the flag changes as a result of the referendum tomorrow...with the greatest of respect, I don't think many people will remember I was prime minister at the time.
"I've got lots of things I want to mark down as my legacy...but the flag isn't really one of them."
Changing the flag was "not really a new issue", as he had been the fifth New Zealand prime minister to raise the possibility.
Key did not want to predict the final result, saying it was "just so hard to tell", but a recent upswing in people telling him they backed change had given him cause for optimism.
SILVER FERN 'INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISABLE'
"An awful lot of people have come up to me, saying that they've been voting for change, and quite a lot of people have...said it wasn't their intention to vote for the new flag, but actually after seeing it...in the final analysis they've decided to change.
"Whether that's actually enough to change the flag, I don't know."
His support of the Lockwood design was based on his preference for the flag to use a silver fern, "the symbol that's internationally recognisable", and a desire for Kiwis to use the country's flag more often.
"For me, the debate's always been about how we show the world just how proud we are of New Zealand by being a bit more overtly patriotic through the use of our flag."
TURNOUT NEARING TWO MILLION
More than 1.9 million Kiwis had voted in the referendum as of Tuesday, with those keen to have their say still able to submit their ballot in time.
Chief electoral officer Robert Peden said voting papers needed to be cleared and postmarked before voting closed on Thursday at 7pm, with the "best bet" to take it to a PostShop before the close of business.
Key said the high turnout showed the debate had been worthwhile, with many Kiwis interested in the future of the country's flag.
"When some people said this isn't an issue that either captivates the minds of New Zealanders, or they're not interested, then actually I think the numbers proven that to be incorrect - people have been very engaged and they've gone out and voted in extremely high numbers."