Communist Party general secretary Hu Jintao's proposal that delegates to party congresses be allowed to put forward motions is being seen by some analysts as a step towards his goal of intra-party democracy.
But others say the congress would remain a rubber stamp body, with delegates given little real power.
Some party scholars have hailed the development as a significant move towards the intra-party democracy advocated by Hu since he became party chief a decade ago, but independent analysts see it as an effort by the retiring leader to cement his political legacy.
"It is one of the most significant steps in regard to the implementation of the reform to introduce intra-party democracy within the ruling party," said Professor Li Zhongquan , a party historian.
In his keynote speech at the opening of 18th party congress on Thursday, Hu proposed giving delegates the right to put forward motions, along with other reforms such as expanding competitive elections for the party leadership.
Analysts said Hu's suggestion was likely to be incorporated in the party constitution this week. Delegates now only have the power to discuss policy documents, like Hu's report. Their most important power is to "elect" their leadership - the party committees at various levels. But elections for the highest tiers of the party are mainly exercises in rubber-stamping candidates already agreed upon by party powerbrokers.
Even compared with the deputies to the often derided rubber stamp legislatures at various levels, party congress delegates have much less power when it comes to checking party officials and formulating party policy.
Li said intra-party democracy was a prerequisite for democratic development. "If there is no democracy within the ruling party, there is no point talking about democracy for the ordinary people," he said.
But Zhang Lifan , an analyst formerly with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the development was meaningless unless the election of delegates themselves was democratic. "If delegates are chosen by party leaders, how can they propose motions based on the will of grass-roots party members or ordinary people."
Professor Steve Tsang, from the school of contemporary Chinese studies at Britain's University of Nottingham, said the move "will be progress but we should not confuse step by step improvements within the party with democratisation".