The annual voter registration drive in Hong Kong is largely an uneventful affair. But against the backdrop of the row over the extradition bill, a record 350,000 people have signed up to vote in the coming elections. Whether it is more a response to the government’s disastrous handling of the bill or a genuine political awakening remains to be seen. But this is a positive development for civic education and democratic participation. The surge is similar to those following the landmark July 1 march in 2003 and the Occupy protests in 2014. The 2003 march, in which an estimated half a million people took part, was prompted by the government’s push to outlaw subversion and other national security offences under Article 23 of the Basic Law. The 79-day Occupy protests in 2014 were mounted to push Beijing for greater democracy. The now-suspended extradition bill, which would have allowed a case-by-case model to transfer suspects to jurisdictions that lack an extradition agreement with the city, including the mainland, is similar in that it touches on civil rights and Beijing-Hong Kong relations. Like Occupy, the protests over the bill have also attracted a strong following from young people. The voter registration exercise came as the controversy over the bill was raging. Social media was awash with posts urging those opposing the bill to sign up as voters. A significant rise in numbers is therefore unsurprising. There have been suggestions that pan-democratic candidates in the November district council polls and the Legislative Council elections next year may benefit as a result. If the outcomes from previous high-profile political controversies are any guide, there appears to be a good chance for the camp to win more seats. At the height of the anti-extradition row, there were specific appeals for voter registration to try to oust pro-Beijing lawmakers and district councillors who supported the bill. The sentiment is similar to that in 2003 and 2014 when the pro-Beijing camp suffered crushing electoral defeats. Politicians who don’t learn from history pay the price at the polls It is perhaps too early to tell the impact of the voter registration surge at this stage. Without further information on the demographics, there is no reason to assume the newly registered voters are all supporters of the pan-democrats. It remains to be seen whether the momentum will be sustained and send more voters to the ballot box. The electoral outcome also depends on how well allies can avoid clashes and tap the votes strategically under the proportional representation system. How the extradition row shapes the political landscape and the balance of power in the longer term will be an issue of concern to the Hong Kong government and Beijing. It is a reflection of growing civic awareness and political participation.