Is the glass half full or half empty? This is the question facing the pan-democratic camp as it ponders the way forward in the wake of Beijing's edict on Hong Kong's democracy timetable. It's half empty, plainly, because dual universal suffrage for 2012 exists only in theory, not reality. Three years after the National People's Congress Standing Committee ruled out universal suffrage for 2007-2008, pro- democracy activists can be forgiven for feeling down, doubtful and directionless. But from a more positive, historical perspective, Beijing's green light to the introduction of universal suffrage for electing the chief executive in 2017 and all legislators in 2020 is a significant step forward. For the first time since their crusade for democracy began in the 1980s, some democrats can feel a sense of achievement: universal suffrage has become a real possibility for 2017 and 2020. Publicly, they have continued to stand firm against the timetable as being too late. But privately, some may agree that Beijing's decision to fix a date for universal suffrage, particularly for the legislature, is a pleasant surprise. Before the NPC decision was announced, leading democrats had doubted Beijing would go that far. Not surprisingly, the pan-democrats' initial reaction was negative, for political and tactical reasons. While insisting on the timetable of 2012, they have raised a range of 'what ifs' that could actually upset the timing of universal suffrage's introduction. What if the bills on electoral arrangements for 2012 fail to get the necessary two-thirds majority support in the Legislative Council? Would that delay universal suffrage beyond 2017? What if there is no consensus on the fate of the functional constituencies? What if views are divided over how to nominate candidates for the universal suffrage election of the chief executive? The list of questions goes on and on. Democrats will increasingly understand the importance of taking the initiative in seeking the best answers in the next round of the constitutional reform battle. Rather than reacting to proposals dictated by the government, democrats would be wiser to use their veto power to bargain for the best deal. Such a subtle change of tack has already surfaced, as leading democrats have floated the idea of 'walking with two legs'. That means, on the one hand, standing firm on their stance on universal suffrage for 2012. On the other, it means taking part in negotiations to find the most democratic electoral models for introducing universal suffrage. That will be no easy political act. It will risk splitting the pan-democratic camp and sparking lingering frictions with Beijing. But, as more people begin to accept the NPC timetable, the room for political manoeuvring will grow as democrats fight for 'genuine universal suffrage' in 2017 and 2020. In view of the lingering political uncertainties, doubters have good reason not to feel optimistic about the prospects of gaining universal suffrage. But allowing an air of pessimism to sink in could make it more difficult for the democrats to galvanise public support and turn the opportunity for universal suffrage into reality for 2017 and 2020. Visiting NPC official Qiao Xiaoyang expressed hope that the implementation of universal suffrage would create yet another Hong Kong success story. The last thing Beijing wants is Hong Kong's experience with universal suffrage to become a bad example, if not a laughing stock, in the world of democracy. Therein lies an opportunity for the democrats to fight for full democracy through rational discussion, quiet persuasion and reasonable give and take. Never mind whether or not the democracy glass is partially filled at the moment. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.