On July 1, Hong Kong people voted by their presence. On Sunday, they did so through the ballot box. While the methods used were different, the message was the same. The mass rally marked an important step towards political maturity and demands for political reform; Sunday's district council elections were another stride in this direction. The record voter turnout and the strong showing by pro-democracy candidates has dispelled any notion that the march by 500,000 was a one-off event, to be forgotten when the economy improved. More than a million people voted on Sunday, pushing the turnout to more than 44 per cent - high by the standards of local elections in advanced democracies. This highlights the growing interest in political participation. And the way in which people voted was significant. The pro-government Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong suffered a clear defeat. The party paid the price for supporting an unpopular administration and trying to help it push through the controversial national security laws. By contrast, the pro-democracy camp fared well - a sign of the people's appetite for reform. Although it is not yet clear, there may be evidence in the voting pattern of an emerging political party system, with party loyalty appearing to have played a role. This should be nurtured and developed. Political parties will have a key role to play if, or when, reforms are made. But there are other issues that our leaders will need to ponder as the results hit home. Tung Chee-hwa and his team must now consider that presiding over an improving economy is not enough to prevent their supporters getting a hammering in the polls. The results can be seen as another manifestation of anti-administration sentiment. People are aware the economic rebound is being fuelled by concrete support from the central government. So the credit has gone where it is due - to the leaders in Beijing. The assistance has generated much support for the central government here: the reservoir of goodwill is almost full. If the administration is to restore credibility and trust, it must now work to neutralise issues that count against it. This is what a politically astute government would do. Unfortunately, it has little room for manoeuvre. The need to tackle the budget deficit means it is hard to hand out sweeteners. There is much discontent about the quality of education, for example, but the best the government can hope for in the short term is to keep the funding cuts to a minimum. One source of discontent, however, is the democracy gap. This is an issue on which the government can act - and should do if it wants to neutralise its opposition. It should listen to the calls for change. Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam appears to appreciate this, linking the election results with next year's consultation on the issue. The administration should take its cue from him. The consultation has to be genuine; it must meet the people's aspirations. The view of the central government will be crucial. It has, quite rightly, stressed that political and social stability must be prime concerns in Hong Kong. But stability is not the same as stasis. Assessing developments here, Beijing might consider that the key to stability is to make progress with political reform, within the framework provided by the Basic Law. In this way, the people of Hong Kong would be provided with what they desire - an effective way of participating in political life. The Basic Law does not guarantee Hong Kong people a say in who governs them, but a promise that this will be the case is implicit in its wording. Meeting this promise, rather than denying it, might be the best way of ensuring that stability is maintained.