Against the drastic changes in the political scene since July 1, the Tung cabinet had no better alternative than to shelve indefinitely its legislative plans for an anti-subversion law. Buffeted by the mass demonstrations against the government and protracted economic malaise, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa no longer had the political capacity, nor any quick, viable policy options to lead the next round of political debate planned for this month. With two sets of elections looming - for the district councils in November and the Legislative Council next September - there had also been enormous pressure from Tung-friendly political parties for the Article 23 issue to be marginalised in the election campaign. Strategically, the decision will considerably ease the political pressure on the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, even though the DAB will still have to pay a price for its words and deeds so far. With the appetite for more concessions on the National Security Bill sharpened after the July protests, the government would have put itself in a no-win situation if its hands had been tied by a deadline for legislation. The democrats, who have championed a deferral until we have full democracy, will presumably adopt delaying tactics. By now, Mr Tung and his top aides should have learned a bitter lesson, having been forced to defer the passage of the bill, scheduled for July 9, despite some major last-minute concessions. Pro-Beijing figures have already warned against turning the national security bill into a 'paper tiger' if the government has to make bottomless concessions to pass it. This is also the last thing Beijing wants, even though - publicly - it has promised a free hand for the special administrative region government to decide the timetable and content of the bill. That has cleared the way for the government to go back to square one. For its part, the central government has shown pragmatism and better understanding of the sentiments of the public over Article 23 legislation in the wake of the July 1 uproar. Given a choice between filling a constitutional hole in the Basic Law and the political expediency of salvaging a lame-duck administration, the national leaders have, sensibly, opted for the latter. By putting on hold the legislative process for at least one year, the Hong Kong and Beijing governments hope a gradual economic recovery and the return of feel-good sentiment will help create a more peaceful and harmonious atmosphere for public debate on the anti-subversion legislation. Yesterday Mr Tung was telling a half-truth when he said the withdrawal would allow 'breathing space' for the community to discuss Article 23. It is the government that badly needs more breathing space as it braces for tough battles on the political and economic fronts.