'Shameful' delay in cabinet formation causing Lebanon's decay, top Christian cleric says

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's top Christian cleric said on Sunday it is "shameful" that politicians have yet to form a new cabinet nearly three months after elections, blaming their chronic feuding for the country's "decay".

Many Lebanese see the long-entrenched governing elite as hamstrung by corruption and dysfunction, and blame it for pushing Lebanon into a financial and economic meltdown that has left eight in 10 people poor.

In his weekly sermon, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai drew an unfavourable comparison between Lebanon's progress in securing a maritime boundary deal with longtime foe Israel and the paralysis in domestic politics.

"Isn't it shameful that authorities make efforts to reach an agreement with Israel on maritime borders but refrain from forming a government? Has it become easier for them to agree with Israel than to agree on a government among the Lebanese?" he said.

"Isn't the split in political power in Lebanon, and of the parties... the basis of the (country's) political, economy, financial and social decay?" he added.

Rai wields significant influence in Lebanon, where the political system is based on power-sharing among various Muslim and Christian sects, with the presidency reserved for a Maronite Catholic.

In calling out politicians over the crisis, Rai appeared to be trying to break the deadlock.

The Maronite Patriarch said "ugly campaigns in the media" appeared aimed at delaying government formation and the election of a new president later on this year.

Rai was alluding to an escalating dispute between President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who was re-nominated as premier after parliamentary elections in May and has been struggling to form a new cabinet.

Mikati presented a speedy draft cabinet line-up to Aoun in June and has stuck to it, although Aoun has suggested a different make-up.

Last week, Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement issued a wave of statements, accusing Mikati of delaying cabinet formation and even of accumulating wealth through corruption.

Mikati's office responded by saying Aoun's party was out of touch with reality in Lebanon.

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily; editing by Mark Heinrich)