Photo/IllutrationVoters gather in Tokyo on Oct. 10 to hear candidates running in the Oct. 22 Lower House election. (Kazuyoshi Sako)

A reader’s letter aptly illustrates the mind-set of many voters ahead of the Oct. 22 Lower House election.

“I feel as if I am being told to eat ‘nabe’ (hot pot) in a pitch-black room without knowing the ingredients that are being added. I want to eat nabe in a bright room while knowing what is being put in the pot.”

For this election, voters face the mystery of not only why it is being held at this time but also which party to vote for.

Two sudden occurrences in the past few weeks have led to the fogginess that seems to have enveloped many voters.

One is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dissolution of the Lower House and calling of the snap election.

Abe said the graying of the Japanese population, the falling birthrate and the situation surrounding North Korea are serious issues that must be addressed.

While that is certainly true, the obvious first place to thoroughly discuss those issues is in the Diet.

Abe, however, avoided debate and came up with the anachronistic slogan of “overcoming national crises” in explaining why he was dissolving the Lower House.

The second sudden event was the disappearance of the main opposition party, giving a certain portion of the electorate nowhere to turn to.

In place of the Democratic Party emerged Kibo no To (Hope). But the party’s characteristics are unclear, and it has not explained how it plans to achieve its main policies.

The Hope party has also failed to provide a clear picture of who it would back for prime minister or what type of government it might join. Voters would certainly feel perplexed if they are asked to leave everything up to this party.

What should this election be about?

The first issue is Japan’s past five years under the Abe administration.

A close look at the administration’s policies is needed, of course, but voters should also examine the political methods it has employed as well as its nature.

In past elections, the administration has avoided mentioning items related to important political themes, such as national security legislation and the anti-conspiracy bill.

The administration has then pushed through passage of bills in subsequent Diet sessions, despite loud opposition from political parties and the general public.

The scandals over Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution raise questions about how a long-term administration can become “distorted,” leading to suspicions about whether friends of the administration are receiving favors and whether bureaucrats are always conscious of the intentions of the administration.

While the prime minister has offered apologies for how the administration has dealt with such scandals, he has also often gone off on his own track rather than respond to questions head-on.

Voters should also think about the quality of politicians that lies at the root of distrust toward the political world. The “dumbing down” of politicians is evident in the rash of gaffes made by Cabinet ministers as well as the problems encountered by second-term Lower House members.

The lawmakers who switched from the Democratic Party to the Hope party should clarify the consistency of their views on important issues.

Of particular importance will be the Constitution, the backbone of the nation.

The parties calling for amending the Constitution must first explain which parts are defective and in what way. They should also explain if revising the Constitution is the only way to correct those problems.

The Asahi Shimbun has repeatedly made this argument.

The framework for debate on the Constitution will likely change drastically after the election, meaning that voters can no longer afford to give carte blanche to the parties after only receiving a vague explanation of what they plan to do.

The political situation is expected to become much more fluid after the ballots are counted.

There have already been references to the creation of a grand coalition. The various parties face the task of presenting a design that can convince the voters.

The unclear picture presented by the parties so far could lead to trepidation among voters and cause more of them to stay away from the ballot boxes on Oct. 22. Why, they might ask, would anyone want to partake in eating nabe in the dark?

If that situation arises, no party would emerge victorious and the political world as a whole would go down to defeat.