Keeping his temper cool and his voice down, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen seemed anxious to secure a friendly finish to his last question time of the Legislative Council session. His hopes were dashed well before the 90-minute session ended. A standoff over constitutional reform now looms ahead of a three-month consultation for a 'complete solution' on universal suffrage, which should cover election methods, a road map and timetable. Worse still, the prospect of a consensus among major stakeholders and society at large has been dimmed by the depth of mutual mistrust between Mr Tsang and the pan-democratic camp, exposed at the session. Underlying the text and tone of the barrage of questions raised by democrats was a sea of doubt about the forthcoming green paper on universal suffrage, ranging from what it will include, or exclude, and how it will be conducted and assessed. If the feeling of scepticism, if not cynicism, has already percolated into some quarters before the consultation paper has even been released, it is because the overall political climate is still far from healthy. Beijing and the democrats face a further strain in their relations as the mainland authorities step up their rhetoric on their authority on the issue of universal suffrage. That was the message behind the reminder by President Hu Jintao to the people of Hong Kong on July 1 of all-important notions such as recognising 'one country' as the prerequisite for 'two systems'. That Mr Tsang has refrained from giving a categorical assurance that a timetable for universal suffrage in 2012 will be included in the green paper only deepens suspicion that the consultation drive is doomed to be a mere public opinion game. While democrats were giving an early signal they will now campaign effectively on one issue - 'one person, one vote' in 2012 - Mr Tsang has stuck to the government contention that the question of how the system of universal suffrage works is even more important. Any failure by the government to clearly specify universal suffrage in 2012 as an option for the public runs the risk of sparking a serious challenge to the whole exercise. As Mr Tsang began to raise his voice, it said something about the rising tension over the next, supposedly final, blueprint for universal suffrage.