An adviser to Iran's President Hassan Rouhani says "changing Iran's Constitution is possible in theory, except for four principles that emphasize the Islamic and republican nature of the regime, the guardianship of jurisconsult (Velayat-e Faqih) and the reliance on people's vote."
Presidential adviser Hesamoddin Ashna made the remarks during a meeting with students at the University of Tehran on belated Students' Day, on Sunday December 9 (the actual anniversary was Thursday December 7), stressing that any "harder struggle" for reform in Iran would be "costly" for those who have a problem with the underlying principles.
The remarks were made in response to student activists' demand for reforming the Islamic Republic through constitutional change.
Iranian university students have been pushing hard for decades to change Iran's rigid political system. During the past month, first a group of ultraconservative students called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to visit the university, answer the students' questions and be accountable on the Islamic Republic's 40-year record.
Later , in a letter to President Hassan Rouhani more than 500 student activists condemned the expanding presence of security agencies and "the deepening atmosphere of repression" dominating universities in Iran.The students also criticized what they say is "competition" between intelligence organs in suppressing Iranian students and others, including teachers, workers, and dervishes across the country.
The students who were disappointed by Rouhani's absence on the Students' Day put tough questions to Ashna. Responding to the question "When the people's ordeal is going to come to an end, and when are we going to get rid of people like you," Ashna said: "I will be around as long as there are no better choices."
Although he did not explain his remarks about the "cost" of demands for essential changes, it was evident that he was talking about jail sentences.
In their letter to Rouhani the students had said, "more than 300 students have been arrested this year, sentenced to a total of more than 100 years, thousands of lashes, and banned from leaving the country for a year."
During the past year, especially during the protest demonstrations in December 2017 and January 2018, many activists pointed out that it was impossible to reform the Islamic Republic under its rigid Constitutional Law, and thus, called for regime change.
Subsequently, the term "regime change" entered the rhetoric of both the reformist and conservative factions in Iran. Reformist theoretician Saeed Hajarian recently said in an interview with proreform daily Etemad that "Reformers' rivals are no longer the right-wingers. Now-a-days our rivals are those who demand regime change" in Iran.
Chanting slogans in favor of monarchy, protesters in more than 100 Iranian cities in early 2018 warned both the conservative and reformist factions that the discourse of choosing one of the two factions was over. People do not believe in either one, they want regime change.
Ashna said on Sunday the constitution does contain articles that pave the way for changing the law and resolving the current political deadlock. However, he added, the dynamics of power in Iran are complicated, so that even former presidents realized only after their term of office that there were many things they did not know about while in power.
Although this was going too far for a presidential adviser known to be a staunch conservative, yet critics lashed out at him on social media.
Some pointed out that in fact the four principles he mentioned were the main hindrances to reform and that it was impossible to introduce any reforms as long as those principles prevail.
Comments under Ashna's tweet about Sundays meeting included criticism of his cautious responses. One student wrote, "The political atmosphere has shifted from reformism to conservatism and opportunism," and others protested to Rouhani's absence at the university on the day.
One comment said "Students' demands will be met when inefficient people like you are uprooted" from the government." Another one warned, "We will disrupt your sleep if you stop us from dreaming." Yet another comment said "Tell the main man to be accountable," alluding possibly to Khamenei.