Fri, 11 Jun 2004

Biographies of candidates sell like hotcakes

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, Jakarta

Indonesians may not be so keen on literature but bookstores across the country have nevertheless benefited from the hype surrounding the country's first ever direct presidential election.

In any bookstore or sidewalk book kiosk in Jakarta, you will find yourself greeted by glowing pictures of presidential and vice presidential candidates on the cover of books about them.

Five candidates -- Wiranto, Megawati Soekarnoputri, Amien Rais, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Hamzah Haz -- are contesting the July 5 presidential election. Almost all of them have had their biographies published.

An employee of Gramedia bookstores, one of the largest bookstore chains in the country, on Jl. Matraman Raya, East Jakarta, for example, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that books about presidential and vice presidential candidates were currently in high demand.

"The biographies of candidates are among the biggest sellers these days," said Budi.

He said biographies of presidential candidates Wiranto, Susilo and Amien Rais were selling like hot cakes.

The bookstore sells the biographies of several candidates, with prices ranging from Rp 20,000 (US$2.20) for a soft cover version to Rp 250,000 for hard cover.

People from the lower income brackets can go to Senen in Central Jakarta, where books, often counterfeit, are more affordable. Dozens of sidewalk book kiosks offer new and second- hand books and biographies of the candidates.

A book vendor in Senen told the Post earlier this week that he sold up to 10 biographies of presidential candidates on weekdays and more than a dozen at weekends.

"It's normal. All you have to do is know what the buyers need," he said.

Deny Rumeser, a buyer, said he had bought several books on presidential candidates because he wanted to know more about them.

"I want to get to know who they really are. It is interesting to find out how they grew up or how they take care of their families. You know, they usually only talk about things I don't understand during the campaign," he told the Post.

The presidential campaign kicked off on June 1 and will end on July 1, three days before polling day on July 5.

Deny complained, however, that most of the books were not well-written.

Indeed, some people had taken advantage of the election hype by publishing books about the candidates without having any regard to quality.

An virtually unheard of publisher, for example, has published a book containing media clippings about Susilo, the most popular presidential candidate according to some polls. The preface was written by someone claiming to be a journalist. It is sold for Rp 10,000 per copy.

Usamah Hisyam, the author of book titled SBY Sang Demokrat (SBY: The Democrat), said he knew nothing about the other books on Susilo.

"The official biography of Susilo is SBY Sang Demokrat. I don't know who wrote the others but none of them are official biographies," he said.

He denied that the biography was written to boost Susilo's popularity during the campaign. According to Usamah, the biography was written in September last year.

"I offered to write his biography and he agreed. I finished writing in February and the next thing I knew was that he had been named a presidential candidate," Usamah said.

Later on, however, Usamah wrote a mini biography of Susilo titled Sang Kandidat (The Candidate), which costs Rp 30,000 a copy. The publisher has printed 150,000 copies, some 80 percent of which have been sold.

"I wrote Sang Kandidat for campaign purposes. That is why it is sold at Rp 30,000 a copy -- so as many people as possible can buy it," he said.