Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, a respected pro-democracy leader, is not known for making harsh comments against his allies. That he has made veiled criticism of the democrats for their failure to reach agreement on an electoral model reflects growing frustration and anxiety over the impasse on universal suffrage. Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Mr Chu, who is chairman of the Democratic Development Network, expressed concern that democrats were not working hard enough to find a way forward. He accused political parties of working for their own internal interests and being concerned only with the number of seats that they are able to retain or win in the Legislative Council. Comprising academics and democracy activists, the Democratic Development Network is trying to develop a model for electing the chief executive and Legco that is acceptable to all parties. With the Commission on Strategic Development close to ending talks on electoral reform, Mr Chu appears increasingly impatient about the failure of the democratic camp to find a consensus on an electoral model. His frustration stems from the fact that such a failure is clearly counterproductive to the camp's fight for universal suffrage, and will make it even more difficult for a broader consensus to be reached by the general public. Importantly, veteran activists such as Mr Chu are adamant that pro-democratic parties should make serious efforts to form an alternative ruling force - with unity, clear vision and long-term goals. It is true that the overall atmosphere is not conducive to the discussion of universal suffrage. The Commission on Strategic Development, initiated by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his maiden policy address in 2005, has failed to function as an effective high-profile forum to resolve differences over the democracy issue. Public indifference, if not scepticism, towards the debate has grown deeper due to a lack of transparency in the commission's meetings. With no sight of a clear road map and timetable for universal suffrage emerging in the near future, people can be forgiven for feeling cynical. This is despite the fact that public aspirations for universal suffrage have never ebbed. Against that background, it has become more important for the pan-democratic camp to strive for a consensus, not just among themselves but in the wider community as well. Given the provisions on universal suffrage in the Basic Law and the political reality in Hong Kong under 'one country, two systems', the central government has the final say on the shape and timing of the city's political reform. In the wake of the decision by the National People's Congress Standing Committee in 2005 to rule out universal suffrage this year, a feeling of helplessness and futility appears to have sunk in. Beset by a string of internal problems and external challenges, the leading pro-democratic parties have chosen to take a passive approach in the debate. Some seem to be worried that instead of resolving the differences in the camp, intensified efforts on universal suffrage might actually see these problems widening into a split. The suggestion seems to be that it would be tactically unwise to try to push hard for a compromise at the expense of much-needed unity within the movement. The democrats' approach raises concerns over their shortsightedness and negative mentality. Ostensibly, they prefer not to bite the bullet, but to wait for the government to present a proposal for consultation. They will then give full play to their powers to say 'no', or to try to make changes to the blueprint. This is a very dangerous strategy. The democrats run the very real risk of painting themselves into a politically weak corner. And they would further disappoint their supporters on the issue of universal suffrage if they fail to take a more proactive role in helping to end the protracted fight for full democracy. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.