HONG KONG — Hong Kong democracy advocates, savoring their first significant victory under Chinese rule, called on Tung Chee-hwa, the territory’s chief executive, to resign yesterday.
They issued the call one day after he backed down on a hugely unpopular antisubversion bill.
Analysts said Mr. Tung’s future rests in Beijing’s hands. Although the central government has always supported Mr. Tung, it may have been embarrassed, even alarmed, to see him lose the showdown about the security measure, experts said.
Some Tung critics worried about what Beijing’s reaction would be.
“It may well lead to some backlash,” said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, a nongovernmental organization.
“Unlike what Beijing has expected in the past, Hong Kong is not totally under their control,” Mr. Law said. “It’s in their pocket, but it’s still alive and kicking in a way that makes them uncomfortable.”
In a stunning reversal, Mr. Tung said the bill outlawing subversion, sedition, treason and other crimes against the state would not be submitted for a vote tomorrow as he had planned. He had to put the bill on hold after a key legislative ally, James Tien of the pro-business Liberal Party, refused to go along.
Critics say the bill, carrying life prison sentences for some offenses, poses the biggest threat to Hong Kong’s civil liberties since Britain gave this former colony back to China on July 1, 1997. Half a million people marched to protest the bill last Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of the hand over.
The United States, the European Union, Britain, Australia and New Zealand raised questions about the bill. China accused them of improperly meddling.
“Tung should take the blame and resign,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung. “This is an unprecedented political calamity that has wiped out the power and reputation of his administration.”
Some pro-Beijing politicians appeared to distance themselves from Mr. Tung yesterday. When asked whether Mr. Tung should resign, the chairman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong said that was a matter only Mr. Tung could consider.
An antisubversion bill is required under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, but critics say the government tried to go too far with its proposal. Mr. Tung, who repeatedly denied that Hong Kong’s freedoms were in jeopardy, watered down the bill Saturday in an effort to end the crisis.
He scrapped a provision that allows some groups to be banned, added protections for journalists who publish classified information and deleted a provision that would let police conduct searches without warrants.
Opponents said the changes were inadequate and stepped up their pressure.
Political scientist Michael DeGolyer of the Hong Kong Baptist University said a face-saving way out of the dilemma would be for Mr. Tung to resign in a few months because of “health reasons” that ostensibly would not reflect on a job performance China’s leaders have praised.
“If Beijing has any sense, they should think of alternatives,” said Mr. Law, the human rights activist.
Mr. Tung, a former shipping tycoon, was selected to lead Hong Kong by an elite election committee filled with Beijing’s allies. Its members didn’t even have to vote on his re-election last year because no one else could get on the ballot, and he won by default.
Last week’s protest was the biggest in Hong Kong since 1 million people demonstrated against Beijing’s deadly crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in June 1989. It gave many here a new sense of empowerment.
“Beijing should get a very important message: We are not asking for independence, but we do want to be left alone in running our own affairs,” said lawmaker Martin Lee, a top opposition figure. “We love our freedom.”
A mainland Chinese official said Sunday the bill should be approved as scheduled. Enacting the legislation is the “solemn responsibility of the Hong Kong people,” a spokesman for the Chinese National People’s Congress was quoted as telling the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Political scientist Ivan Choy said the statement came from a low-level official, giving Beijing some wiggle room.