Official thinking in Hungary is increasingly being focused on the need to tackle political reform. Sandro Lakos, the editor of the Communisty Party weekly Partelet, was recently quoted as saying that the main political question in Hungary today is ''how to democratize power and enable citizens to share in it.''
Political reform is seen by some as essential to the success of the sophisticated economic reform already under way here. The ''new economic mechanism,'' as it is called, is steadily moving the country closer to a market-oriented economy.
Yugoslavia decided many years ago that, for such economic reform to be effective, there must be a relaxation in the political sphere, though just now Yugoslavia's leaders are debating how far such relaxation can be allowed to go.
A cautious first step in the Hungarian reform is a new election law, which requires every seat in the national parliament and in local councils to be contested by at least two candidates.
The whole electoral process will remain subject to the party's final jurisdiction. But the methods for next year's elections are designed to broaden the spectrum of candidates, making it possible for persons who are not party members to secure nomination.
More effective authority for parliament is also foreseen. It has even been suggested, from within the party itself, that parliament be allowed to consider problems before the party makes its own pronouncements on policy. This would be a notable innovation.
Thus far it has been the practice of the party Central Committee to lay down policy, both in principle and detail. Only then has parliament been able to legislate. The result is little more than a formal confirmation.
Still, a reverse order of procedure would not greatly affect final decisions, since party members would continue to constitute the majority group in any parliament elected under the new law.
But the advocates of such a changed procedure see it as greatly enhancing a larger participatory role for nonparty MPs and the country's noncommunist majority. They say it would help the Communist Party in terms of public understanding and credibility.
Mr. Lakos described the classic communist claim that power rests ''in the hands of the people rather than those of the party'' as ''a Platonic idea, not democracy.'' It had led the party to regard its authority as absolute and in turn that, he said, had led to the crisis of 1956, in which Soviet troops put down an attempted revolution here.
This view acknowledges political reform as necessary to further effective economic development. It sees this as attainable only if the party broadens its tolerance of a ''serious and independent'' role for governing institutions, with responsibility and freedom to subject the party itself to criticism.
This does not mean other parties and party pluralism. The Communist Party will continue to ''direct'' developments. The idea, according to Lakos, is for the political system to function as if there were, in fact, ''several mutually contending parties.''
''The important thing,'' he says, ''is that different interests [not opposed to ''socialism''] be properly represented'' as decisions are made.
Some similar thinking is going on with the trade unions. Here the Hungarians appear to have taken lessons from the example - and the fate - of the now-outlawed Solidarity trade union in Poland. In their view Solidarity went too far, ignoring the political facts of life and the Realpolitikm governing Eastern Europe. Hungarians have understood these things for many years.
Poland's party chief, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, finds it hard indeed to convince Poles that the unions that have taken Solidarity's place can be meaningful partners in labor and social affairs and the economy generally.
Thanks to the reforms here - and their undoubted benefit to the country - Hungary's leaders do not have to contend with that kind of skepticism, even in a period of considerable economic difficulty involving price rises and wage restraint.