MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A candidate from Australia's opposition claimed victory on Sunday in a close by-election seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Scott Morrison's handling of bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kristy McBain of the centre-left Labor Party claimed a narrow win over Fiona Kotvojs of Morrison's conservative party in electorate of Eden-Monaro.
"I'm very pleased and honoured to be the next member for Eden-Moreno," McBain said in televised remarks.
McBain received 50.58% of the votes, while Kotvojs got 49.42%, according to the Australian Electoral Commission's website.
Although not a major blow to Morrison - the results will not affect the balance of power in parliament - McBain's apparent victory shows that a recent rebound in the prime minister's approval ratings has not decisively translated into votes.
Morrison's uniting management style in the COVID-19 pandemic and his decisive measures have made him the country's most popular leader in a decade.
That followed a steep decline in his popularity at the start of the year over his handling of the devastating bushfires that killed dozens of people and millions of animals, charring vast swaths of land.
"It has been an election that had been fought on local issues first and foremost," said McBain, whose electorate on the south coast of New South Wales state has suffered severely from the bushfires.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)