China's president is calling for more democratic elections and a greater public say in how leaders are chosen. President Hu Jintao's remarks came in a speech to members of the Communist Party as the country held its National Day celebrations.
The state-run Xinhua news agency quotes the Chinese leader as saying the public should have a greater role in government. It also quotes him as saying there should be reforms to China's legal system and the government should be more responsive to the public.
The report did not specify whether Mr. Hu was talking about allowing more opposition parties to operate, or whether he was referring to a possible expansion of the so-called village elections program.
The program has been in place for about a decade, allowing people in small townships to vote directly for local, low-level party officials.
Analysts say President Hu's remarks may be a sign that the Chinese leadership is about to unveil much awaited electoral reforms. An announcement could come at next week's annual meeting of the Communist Party leadership, where top party officials will discuss possible constitutional reforms.
Allen Choate of the Asia Foundation in Hong Kong says the changes, if they happen, would likely be limited to the village level. "I would not be surprised if there is more discussion next week, in the context of amending the Constitution, on changing the ways in which local party leaders and party secretaries are selected and elected," he said.
A number of key issues are on the agenda at next week's meeting, including economic reforms and other measures that are meant to ease concerns over the growing gap between China's urban rich and the rural poor.
Pressure has been growing on the government to respect property rights and improve the lives of impoverished farmers, who often complain they are being overtaxed.
Mr. Choate said President Hu and the Communist Party appear to be responding to growing farmers' protests.
"I think this leadership understands that there is a new mentality out there in the countryside; that there is a growing rights consciousness and these village elections have contributed to that," said Mr. Choate. "So being more open and responsive and not taking as many arrogant steps as they have in the past - things like land expropriation - would probably be one [foreseeable] change in the governing style of the party."
Analysts say the party may be ready to push measures that would make local officials more accountable and more responsive to their constituents.
Any reforms more sweeping than that, they say, are not likely. Chinese officials have recently repeated they do not believe the country is ready for direct elections at higher levels.
Many analysts say any discussion of allowing opposition parties to operate openly as they would in many western countries remains out of the question.