Pro-Beijing figure Cheng Yiu-tong says a public consultation on universal suffrage should not start before the middle of next year, and that the government's priority should be social issues.
But his remarks, made in a TVB interview yesterday, were immediately dismissed by pan-democrats as "delaying tactics".
They say any delay to the process will only encourage more people to join their Occupy Central campaign to blockade Central district in July next year to press the government to adopt their idea of universal suffrage.
Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong's chief executive will be democratically elected by 2017 and that all seats of the legislature would be returned by direct elections in 2020 at the earliest.
How this will happen is to be determined by Hong Kong.
Cheng, who also sits on the Executive Council, which advises Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said: "I think it will be appropriate to start the consultation in the middle of next year.
"We should give the government more time to address the city's social issues first - say, waste disposal, for example. I am not suggesting that we should not start the consultation on universal suffrage before all livelihood problems have been resolved. But we will still have time."
Cheng added that he expected the city would be so "overwhelmed" by the topic when the consultation began that people would forget about other issues.
But the Democratic Party's Sin Chung-kai said there would not be enough time for a thorough consultation if it began in mid-2014: "It may just drive more people to join Occupy Central."
His views were shared by Jackie Hung Ling-yu, of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organises the annual July 1 anti-government march. "This is just a delaying tactic. We fear there won't be enough time for discussion, so the government will then be able to push through whatever it wants," Hung said.
Civic Party legislator Kenneth Chan Ka-lok called Cheng's suggestion "shameless", saying: "It has been 16 years since the handover but the government still cannot solve the livelihood problems. And now Mr Cheng wants to use this as an excuse to further delay our democratisation?"
Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing asked why the consultation and social issues could not be handled at the same time. "Is this a hint the government proposals will be controversial and the people will all go out to protest?"
Exco member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee told Commercial Radio the consultation should start by early next year at the latest.
Student activists Scholarism also said mid-2014 would be too late to start the consultation.
Meanwhile at RTHK's City Forum yesterday, Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, urged the business sector to support universal suffrage.Topics: Occupy Central