In the transition literature, ‘free and fair elections’ is often treated as the most important indicator of democratic quality. In this paper, however, we argue that ‘free deliberation among equals’ is in many respects a more telling measure. On the face of it, this argument might strike one as implausible. After all, the decisive moment in many transitions is the signing of a pact between elements in the government and opposition who are more concerned to protect their own interests than to explain themselves to others. Yet while pacts may not be particularly deliberative, they still occasion a great deal of deliberation across society as a whole. We argue that the different sites where deliberation occurs can be understood as forming a deliberative system. To give substance to this idea, we then outline a systemic framework that may be used to describe and evaluate the deliberative capacity of transitional regimes. Finally, we turn to the cases of Venezuela and Poland to illustrate the empirical application of this approach. Both transitions were founded on a pact. Yet differences in the nature of those pacts and the broader deliberative systems in which they were located tell us a lot about where those countries are today.