Opposition candidate claims win in close Australia by-election By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Morrison speaks during a joint press conference at Admiralty House in Sydney

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A candidate from Australia’s opposition claimed victory on Sunday in a close by-election viewed 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 really a major blow to Morrison – the outcome will not affect the balance of power in parliament – McBain’s apparent victory demonstrates a recent rebound in the prime minister’s approval ratings has not decisively translated in to votes.

Morrison’s uniting management style in the COVID-19 pandemic and his decisive measures have made him the country’s most widely used 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 a large number 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.

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