If official hints last week of a delay in public consultation on electoral reform were not clear enough, Tuesday's warning by the head of the mainland's central bank of the risk of political instability in Hong Kong were a cue for the chief executive's announcement of a deferral. Zhou Xiaochuan told local advisers to the central authorities that the financial turmoil would continue to erode confidence in Hong Kong and Macau, thus posing a threat to stability. Against that backdrop, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's words yesterday should not have surprised anyone. With the worst of the recession yet to come and politics still in flux following September's Legislative Council election, pressing ahead now with consultation on arrangements for electing the chief executive and legislature in 2012 would be fraught with uncertainty. Yesterday's scenes of disorder at Mr Tsang's question-time session in Legco says something about the current social tensions. Admittedly, the League of Social Democrats' legislators do not reflect mainstream opinion, but the anti-establishment mood of a vocal minority. But to the Tsang team, the environment is plainly not conducive to bridging the gaps in opinion about the methods of election to use, let alone to achieving consensus. Put bluntly, the ruling team has no confidence in its ability to bring political and social factions any closer through consultation in the next few months - even though conditions in the fourth quarter of the year, when the consultation will now begin, may not be any more conducive. Mr Tsang admits the deferral will disappoint some, but he appears convinced that for most people, worried as they are about their jobs, political reform is not a priority. It is only sensible to revise the policy agenda in light of the growing economic uncertainty. But quite apart from breaking his pledge on consultation, the deferral may further dent public confidence in the competence and commitment of Mr Tsang and his team to deliver universal suffrage. The administration is still prone to blunders, which given the political restlessness could, in the words of Mr Zhou, 'lead to storms if not handled properly'. By taking electoral reform off the agenda, the Tsang team hopes to steer clear of controversy as it seeks to prevent a surge in unemployment. But that is a pipe dream. You can't separate economics from politics.