As delegates to the 15th Party Congress brush off their rubber stamps, some observers will be watching eagerly for signs of a creeping sense of democracy among grassroots members. While nobody expects the September 12 conclave to turn into a hotbed of dissent, many analysts predict that delegates - especially those with strong provincial loyalties - are prepared to give a less than enthusiastic welcome to specific policy proposals. 'There won't be any major embarrassment for the leadership, but we might well see a tangible degree of opposition among delegates with their own regional agendas,' said a Western diplomat. More than 2,000 delegates will attend the congress, which is held once every five years and traditionally serves as a high-profile launch pad for policy and personnel decisions that have already been thrashed out by the top echelons of the party hierarchy. This time, however, some delegates are expected to follow the lead of their counterparts in the National People's Congress (NPC), who in recent years have dared to express their frustration at the rubber-stamp system. 'Some of that defiance is likely to spill over into the party congress, although perhaps not to the same degree,' the diplomat said. There are already signs that provincial congress delegates will push hard for more of a say in top decision-making bodies, as well as more regional autonomy in policy making. One potential target for dissent would be the sensitive issue of state-sector reform, which the leadership is intent on pushing through. 'There is a lot of concern about the extent of the reforms in regions which will have to cope with the unemployment resulting from closures and streamlining,' said a Western industrial analyst. Those concerns will have been deepened by several reports in the past month of protests by laid-off workers in Sichuan and Hubei provinces. Delegates may also have been emboldened by signals from premier Li Peng that political, as well as economic reform, would be on the agenda at the congress. 'I believe after the 15th Party Congress, China's democratic and legal building and supervision will be further strengthened,' Mr Li said during a recent visit to Singapore.