Istanbul — The only surprise of Sunday's local elections in Turkey was the extent of the victory of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's conservative Motherland Party. Unofficial returns show that the ruling party received nearly half the total 20 million votes, exceeding all expectations. Public opinion polls had predicted a 35 to 40 percent vote for Mr. Ozal's party in the election for 1,967 mayors, 2 ,279 provincial assembly members, 17,297 city council members, and 40,000 village headmen.
Last November, in parliamentary elections that began the end of three years of military rule, the Motherland Party got 45 percent of the vote.
Although Sunday's elections were local, they were viewed as a crucial test of Ozal's policies. During the campaign, various opposition groups focused on his liberal economic plan. But in the end this served Ozal well, since the outcome shows his popularity is on the rise.
An analyst said: ''Anyone at home or abroad who had any doubt about the legitimacy and political support of Ozal's party and government will now be reassured by the outcome of Sunday's ballot.''
The rest of the election results come as no surprise. The two opposition parties represented in parliament - the left-of-center Populist Party and the right-wing Nationalist Democracy Party - suffered severe setbacks.
Two other opposition groups, which were not allowed by the military to take part in last November's elections, emerged as the second and third largest parties. They are the Social Democratic Party, regarded as the heir of the outlawed Republican People's Party, and the conservative Right Path Party, the heir of the former Justice Party.
Both groups did well in Sunday's vote, although not so well as anticipated. The Right Path Party had pinned its hopes on the behind-the-scenes backing of former Premier Suleyman Demirel, who had belonged to the Republican People's Party.
The leaders of both parties hide their disappointment that, although they form Turkey's largest opposition force, they remain outside parliament. They question whether the two opposition parties in parliament really represent their voters.
''The only party which effectively represents the popular vote in parliament is the Motherland Party,'' a leading Turkish commentator said.
The question now is what effect the two-track opposition will have on national politics. During the campaign there was talk about pressing for early elections, which now seem unlikely. With his victory Sunday, Ozal is in a stronger position to reject such a demand. The two opposition groups in parliament strongly oppose it. And President Kenan Evren is against it.