Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is likely to face a confidence motion in the Legislative Council over the budget U-turn that will bring a HK$36 billion handout to permanent residents.
If he does, he will be only the fourth top official to face such a motion since the handover and the first since 2003, when his predecessor Antony Leung Kam-chung won the vote but resigned soon afterwards.
The motion will be raised as soon as possible, pan-democratic lawmakers say.
They are angered by what they describe as Tsang's lack of sincerity in the face of their call for him to make long-term financial commitments to social development.
Tsang faces a growing credibility crisis. Albert Ho Chun-yan and Emily Lau Wai-hing of the Democratic Party have called for Legco to debate a non-binding motion calling on Tsang to step down. And former top official Joseph Wong Wing-ping yesterday called on Tsang to resign.
'As a politically appointed official, John Tsang should do the honourable thing and step down,' said Wong, civil service secretary from 2000 to 2006.
Wong said it was not a matter of targeting a particular official. 'What is at stake is the credibility of the whole administration,' he said. He cited Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's pledge in 2008 that political appointees would stand down if they failed to meet public expectations.
Nineteen of the 23 pan-democrat lawmakers met Tsang yesterday.
'We will raise a motion of no confidence - although we know it cannot secure enough votes to pass,' said Confederation of Trade Unions lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan after the 11/2-hour meeting.
He said that when they asked Tsang to explain the government's long-term plans and social policies he asked them to speak to the relevant government bureaus.
Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said Tsang declined the pan-democrats' offer of two weeks for further discussion within the Executive Council. But an official familiar with the meeting said the lawmakers insisted Tsang accept their demands within two weeks, but failed to detail their proposals. 'They were simply putting forward slogans and showed no sincerity or willingness to compromise.'
Pan-democrats want an extra HK$20 billion in recurrent government spending, resumption of the Home Ownership Scheme - under which the government built flats for sale at subsidised prices for families priced out of the property market - and the establishment of a universal retirement protection scheme.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said Tsang should resign.
'The administration has no credibility and cannot govern,' he said.
Allen Lee Peng-fei, a political commentator and former legislative councillor, said: 'Tsang's biggest mistake was selling his unpopular budget speech too hard and making a U-turn only days after saying there was no room for any concession.'
Tsang said yesterday that the budget put in place initiatives to guarantee improvement in people's livelihoods. 'These measures are in the long-term interests of the community. The government will continue to actively listen to views expressed by members of the public,' he said.
Asked if any official should take political responsibility for the widespread anger over the budget, Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said 'The whole budget is acceptable ... They have adjusted the proposals according to public opinion. There is no need to ask whoever to step down.'
Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, a local delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, shared Tam's view. 'It is overreaction for [the Democratic Party] to threaten to move a motion of no confidence.'