With the government soon to start a public consultation on constitutional reform, one of Beijing's top men in Hong Kong suggested yesterday that economic development should be the city's priority. Li Gang also delivered a firm rebuff to pan-democrats. The government, too, dismissed the Democratic Party's claim that if the Legislative Council rejected the reform proposals for 2012 the administration puts forward after the consultation, the chief executive would have to dissolve the legislature. That would trigger an election which the party says would be a referendum on universal suffrage. Mr Li was asked about the party's contention - articulated last week by its leader, Albert Ho Chun-yan - after officiating at the opening of an art exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. 'It is not the time to discuss this matter,' the deputy director of the central government's liaison office said. 'While the financial crisis is not yet passed, I think the government and community should first unite to spur Hong Kong's economic development.' The consultation has already been delayed to allow the administration to focus on the economy. The chief executive pledged in his policy address last year to launch it before the end of March, but in January announced it would be put off. Mr Li said that when the economy recovered, the city's stability and prosperity must be maintained. It was the liaison office's first intervention in the current debate, and an unusual one; it rarely comments publicly on Hong Kong politics. Acting Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung was asked about the Democratic Party's stand after giving a speech to a regional women's conference earlier in the day. Mr Lam said Legco could not be dissolved by the chief executive even if it vetoed the government's proposals for constitutional reform. The Democratic Party's plan involves invoking Article 50 of the Basic Law, which states that the chief executive 'may dissolve' Legco if it refuses to pass a budget or an important government bill. Mr Lam spelled out the government's interpretation of the authority the Basic Law gives the chief executive to dissolve the legislature. 'Constitutional reform is not bound by Article 50 of the Basic Law. It's an entirely different matter. The chief executive has no authority to dissolve Legco whether or not the reform is passed by the legislature,' he said. After Legco vetoed earlier government proposals for constitutional reform in 2005, the National People's Congress Standing Committee said universal suffrage could be used to elect the chief executive in 2017 and the legislature in 2020. Mr Ho laid out the party's strategy after the chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, on Tuesday told academics that the consultation on constitutional reform - which the government has pledged to launch in the fourth quarter - would not deal with the elections in 2017 and 2020. Pan-democrats meanwhile took their argument a step further. Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said Mr Tsang should step down if he could not come up with reforms acceptable to Legco that offer a road map to a 'one man, one vote' election for the chief executive in 2017 and universal suffrage for the election of the legislature in 2020. Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah backed Mr Cheung. 'As leaders in other countries usually do, [Mr Tsang] should either dissolve Legco or step down if such an important issue is again turned down by the legislature,' he said.