Early this year, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged to strive for a 'complete solution' to the issue of universal suffrage if he were re-elected. But cynics doubted whether that meant the 'one person, one vote' dream would come true any time soon. Now they've been proved right. Moving at intriguing speed, Mr Tsang submitted a report to the national legislature on Wednesday, summing up the consultation exercise on constitutional development that was launched in July. The report noted that more than half the community supported the introduction of universal suffrage for the chief executive in 2012, but that its adoption 'no later than 2017' stood a better chance of acceptance. But public views were much more diverse about the future of functional constituencies, it said; setting a timetable might help achieve a consensus there. Hours after the report was submitted, Xinhua quoted the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong as saying that the document accurately reflected the public's views and Mr Tsang's position. So now Mr Tsang has put the ball into Beijing's court. Soon, perhaps even this month, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress may formally rule out universal suffrage for 2012, while leaving the 2017 option open. A former senior government official has observed it was hardly surprising that the Tsang administration acted swiftly to kill off the democracy debate after Anson Chan Fang On-sang's victory in the Legislative Council by-election. The government, he said, sensed that the momentum towards universal suffrage was growing. It was keen to marginalise the issue in the lead-up to next year's Legco election. At the same time, few would have been surprised by Mr Tsang's decision not to endorse the majority's support for universal suffrage in the 2012 chief executive poll. In August last year, a veteran pro-Beijing political figure, Ng Hong-mun, was already saying that 2017 would be a more appropriate time for electing the chief executive and legislature by universal suffrage. And Beijing loyalists have been trying to dampen public expectations for dual universal suffrage in 2012. For example, the 1992 manifesto of a forerunner of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong supported universal suffrage for 2007. Yet, this year, the DAB was saying 2017 was the earliest possible date for a democratically elected chief executive. The blitz of negative remarks on the 2012 option has worked, but only to a limited extent. Opinion polls show a slight decline in support for universal suffrage in 2012, from just above 60 per cent to just below. Still, as the government report has noted, over half the people want universal suffrage in 2012. But, by saying that the idea has insufficient support in Legco, the government has made it clear that it prefers the timetable of 2017. This is despite the fact that the DAB is the only major force in Legco categorically opposed to the 2012 option. The Liberal Party supports universal suffrage for the chief executive in 2012 provided that there is a high enough threshold in the nomination process. In his report to the Standing Committee, Mr Tsang said expectations of electing the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2012 'should be taken seriously and given consideration'. If the Standing Committee thinks Mr Tsang meant what he said, it should not veto the 2012 option too hastily. A ruling based on a pragmatic, objective assessment - and frank consultation with the democrats and society at large - would help ease the political fallout when the committee's verdict is delivered to the people of Hong Kong. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.